Hampi near Hospet, in Bellary district is a renowned world heritage centre. The unique Sloth Bear sanctuary is situated very close to this heritage site. Situated only 15 kilometers from Hampi, Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary is the only sanctuary in North Karnataka.
Though the sanctuary is relatively new, which began in 1994 in the eastern plains of Karnataka, it has proved to be a suitable habitat for the Indian Sloth Bears in a span of few years.
The rock-strewn hillocks that stretch between Daroji of Sandur taluk and Ramasagar of Hospet Taluk in Bellary district have been the abode of Indian Sloth Bears since ages. In October 1994, the Government of Karnataka declared 5,587.30 hectares of Bilikallu reserve forest as Daroji Bear Sanctuary.
Geographically, it is located between 15o 14′ to 15o 17′ N latitude and 76o 31′ to 76o 40′ E longitude. However, at the time of declaration, the forest had nothing but barren stony hillocks and thorny trees. Owing to the arduous efforts of the staff and support of the surrounding villagers, the sanctuary has transformed into a lush green area boasting of a verdant forest with exuberant local species of flora and fauna.
It is estimated that about 120 Sloth Bears are living in this sanctuary, apart from Leopards, Hyena, Jackals, Wild Boars, Porcupine, Pangolins, Star Tortoise, Monitor Lizard, Mongoose, Pea Fowls, Partridges, Painted Spur Hen, Quails etc. About 90 species of birds, and 27 species of butterflies have also been identified in this sanctuary in a preliminary survey.
How do the Bears stay confined within the range of the sanctuary?
According to Range Forest Officer Sangamesh N Matt, the sanctuary has innumerable wild fruit-bearing trees and bushes like kavale (carissa carandas), jane (grewia teliafolia), ulupi (Grewia salvitidia), nerale (Eugenea jambolana), bore (zyziphus jujuba), etc in its premises. These trees and bushes yield fruits one after the other.
Also, the authorities have started raising orchards of custard apple (seetaphal), Singapore cherry, mango, banana, maize, etc within the ranges of the sanctuary. Bears are fond of termites and honey, which are also available in plenty here. There are waterholes too, for quenching the thirst of the wildlife.
About Indian Sloth Bear
There are eight species of Bears in the world. Indian Sloth Bear is confined to India and Sri Lanka only. Its scientific (Zoological) name is Melursus ursimus. It has long, dark unkempt coat of hair with a characteristic v-shaped chevron on its chest.
Fore limbs are longer than the hind limbs. The hairless feet are armed with white, blunt, curved claws, which extend up to three inches. Hairless webs unite the pads of the fingertips.
Though the head is comparatively large, the Sloth Bears have relatively small ears and eyes. Hence their sense of hearing and vision is poor. But they have outstanding sense of smell.
Their short-haired, grayish-colored muzzle is extremely flexible and ends in the nose. The nostrils can be closed at will. The lips are extremely loose and two incisor teeth are absent in the upper jaw. All these arrangements are helpful for sucking termites and ants.
Normally, adults attain a length of about six feet and stand three feet at the shoulder. Male adults weigh about 140 kg and female adults about 75 kg. While sommer is their mating period, this is often accompanied by a lot of quarrel and fighting between the males and the females.
Usually two to three cubs are born in winter. The newborn cubs are small, hairless and blind for three weeks. The mother rears the cubs for two to three years. The life span of Bears is 40 to 50 years. The Sloth Bears are nocturnal animals.
The Bears are relish on termites, ants and honey. A Bear rips open the termite mound with its stout claws, pokes its muzzle in the hole, and blows the din and debris away. Then it enjoys the termites by sucking them just like a vacuum cleaner. Vacuuming ants and termites is so noisy that it can be heard 300 yards away!
They are crazy over honey. They climb trees to obtain it and no attack from bees can drive them away from the honey. The Bears also eat the fleshy flowers of Mahuva and thus, help in spreading their tribe.
Likewise, all the consumed seeds of the forest fruits go through the acid treatment in the Bear’s gastric system. These seeds are distributed throughout the forest in the form of stool and they germinate easily in the monsoon. The Bears are good tree climbers. There are instances of them climbing and drinking even toddy! They are good swimmers too.
Man and Sloth Bear
The Sloth Bears are not aggressive. Most bears run away on hearing and smelling people. But these Sloth Bears get so absorbed in what they are doing that they neither notice the presence of people nor smell them, until a sudden encounter.
During such sudden encounters, the annoyed animal stands on its hind legs and roars to scare away the people. Some times the frightened Bear might assault and injure people before rushing away in panic.
Some villagers kill these Bears owing to fear and anxiety over losing their crops. The ever-increasing human population is clearing forest for agriculture and deforestation, which eventually results in destroying the habitat of the Bears.
Collection of minor forest produces like honey and fruits is also forcing the Bears to move to the neighboring agricultural lands in search of food and water. In this context, Daroji Bear sanctuary has provided them a safe haven.
Villagers and the eco-lovers have extended voluntary support towards natural regeneration of forests. Wildlife photographer and Ex-Minister of Karnataka, M Y Ghorpade is the guiding force behind the development of this sanctuary.
Visiting hours of the sanctuary is between 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM on all days. To watch the Bears one must be in the watch-tower on a hillock and sit quietly to look at the Bears descending from the opposite Karadikallu Gudda. This hillock has hundreds of caves where the Bears take shelter.
For the travel enthusiasts, who nurture plans to visit this sanctuary, it is advisable to wear natural dark colored clothes. Avoid white and light colored garments. Arm yourself with binoculars and cameras. The best time to visit the sanctuary is between August and April.
By Road: Bangalore to Chitradurga (199 kms) on NH-4, then to Hospet (135 kms) on NH-13. And then to Kamalapura (12 kms), which is 10 kms from the Sanctuary.
By Rail: Nearest railway station is Hospet where trains from Bangalore and Hubli are accessible.
Forest Guest House, Kamalapur and Gunda Forest Guest House, Vyasanakere near Hospet.