Sloth bear kills couple walking through Indian forest

Sloth bear kills couple walking through Indian forest

Sloth bear kills couple walking through Indian forest

Sloth bear in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India.
A sloth bear is seen in a stock photo taken at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, in Maharashtra, India.

Rakesh Reddy Ponnala/Getty

New Delhi A sloth bear killed a couple last weekend in a forest in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state and then played with their remains for hours, but a ranger told CBS news that although the animal continued to disturb their bodies, it did not feed on the people it killed, and refutes witness statements from earlier in the week.

While human encounters with sloth bears are relatively common, fatal attacks are not, and an expert told CBS News Friday it would be “very unusual” for the animals to feed on human flesh. Divisional Forest Officer Gaurav Sharma told CBS News on Saturday that the animal died about two hours after it was captured. A medical examination confirmed previous reports that it was rabies, but no human remains were ingested.

The attack took place on Sunday as a man and his wife returned home from a temple visit early in the morning. The sloth bear first attacked the woman when the pair walked through the Panna National Park forest and killed her. Her husband died trying to save his wife.

Sharma was quoted by India’s NDTV network on Friday as saying the attack happened around 6:30 am after the couple had “prayed at a temple” in the area.

The Times of India quoted eyewitnesses from the crowd of villagers who gathered on the scene as saying that some tried to scare the bear away by firing gunshots into the air, but did not flinch. According to the newspaper, witnesses saw the bear eat the victims for several hours until the forest workers arrived.

“This is very unusual,” Neha Sinha, a conservation biologist and author, told CBS News. “Mostly sloth bears eat honey and insects.”

Sloth bears are found in India and other South Asian countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. They are about the size of American black bears and can weigh over 300 pounds.

Wild bear attack in Srinagar
A man followed a wild bear after he entered a residential home on December 3, 2012, and injured a person in the suburbs of Srinagar, in Srinagar, India.

Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times/Getty

As a result of escalating deforestation, species, including bears, have lost their natural habitat and moved closer to cities and towns for at least two decades. confrontations are emerging in India.

“In general, there are conflicts during the mahua season, when people go to collect flowers and eat the bears,” Sinha explains to CBS News. The mahua is a tree that grows in many parts of South Asia and blooms in late spring and early summer. The flowers are prized by both humans and sloth bears.

Residents often venture into the woods to collect the flowers for sale at this time of year.

india livelihood
A March 22, 2014 file photo shows Indians collecting mahua leaves from a tree in a forest in Mirzapur, about 84 miles east of Allahabad, India.

Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

Forest officials told Indian media earlier in the week, before Sharma confirmed medical test results showing the bear was rabid, that the animal’s unusual behavior could be due to a rabies infection.

Panna National Park field director Uttam Kumar Sharma was quoted by the India Today news channel as saying the bear appeared to be “in its final stages” when it attacked the pair.

A study published in March showed the highest prevalence of sloth bear attacks across India was in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The study says they are the most common bear species in the country, and they can “behave aggressively toward humans when threatened and are among the most dangerous wildlife in India.”

Regional authorities said the couple’s family would receive 400,000 Indian rupees ($5,100) as compensation for their loss.