A taxi driver was killed after trying to take a selfie with a bear in the Indian province of Odisha. The taxi driver, Prabhu Bhatara, was driving a group of people home from a wedding when he spotted the wounded animal on the side of the road and decided to take a selfie with a bear.
While driving the group home, Bhatara stopped to urinate on the side of the road. He then spotted the wounded animal trying to drink from a pond. Rather than leaving nature to its course or seeking help for the animal from nearby park rangers, he decided to take a selfie with a bear instead, resulting in tragedy.
Selfie with a Bear, Always a Bad Idea
The passengers in his taxi warned Bhatara not to approach the wounded bear; wounded animals are generally considered to be the most dangerous to approach. Nevertheless, the man came close enough to the bear for a selfie. The wounded bear immediately struck the man and mauled him to death.
The taxi driver’s passengers threw rocks and sticks at the bear, attempting to free Bhatara, but stayed a safe distance away and were ultimately unable to do so. A stray dog also came to the taxi driver’s defense, but was no match for the wild bear. One of the passengers in the taxi filmed Bhatara’s death on his cell phone. The video has since gone viral across India.
Forest rangers eventually arrived and confirmed that Bhatara died at the scene.
By the time forest rangers, whose closest post was 6 miles away, reached the scene, Bhatara was already dead. They did, however, tranquilize the bear in order to reclaim the taxi driver’s body. The bear is now receiving the treatment needed for its injuries.
$450 have been given to the man’s family to cover the expenses of a funeral. Locals staged a protest following the taxi driver’s death, demanding a greater payout to his family.
Bears in India
Authorities have not yet indicated what kind of bear was responsible for Bhatara’s death, but it was probably a sloth bear, which holds protected status in India. There are known to be three kinds of bears in India. Two, the brown bear and Himalayan black bear, reside mostly in the north, near the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. The sloth bear, on the other hand, is seen across India and is being rapidly displaced and driven into human territory.
Due to human expansion and rapid population growth, many sloth bears, or Melursus ursinus, have lost their habitats and source of food, pushing them further into human areas. This does occasionally lead to a bear attack, but the 20,000 sloth bears still left in India are a protected species and cannot be hunted.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers sloth bears to be a “vulnerable” species. The vulnerable designation is just one degree away from endangered. IUCN considers deforestation and population growth in India as the largest factors leading to the decimation of the sloth bear population. With India’s population expected to increase by 30% in the next 30 years, they anticipate that the sloth bear population will continue to shrink. IUCN also sites the sloth bear’s aggressive disposition as a reason for population decline, as it is unable to live side by side with humans.
Sloth bears in India aren’t just losing their natural habitat, generally lowlands, they are also hunted by poachers. Wildlife SOS India claims sloth bear cubs are hunted by poachers to be used in Chinese medicine and gourmet cuisine in Southeast Asia.
In the past in India, sloth bears were captured and used for entertainment. The bears were kept in captivity and forced to dance. The practice was officially outlawed in 1972, but persisted until at least 2009 when Wildlife SOS India claimed to have taken the last “dancing bear” from its “owner.”
Despite the sloth bear’s protected status, Wildlife SOS India is not optimistic about the species’ future. They predict the sloth bear population will decline by 30% over the next 30 years, “Given the lack of effective measures to control the rate of habitat loss and exploitation, sloth bear populations are expected to continue declining.”
One would think that Bhatara trying to take a selfie with the bear would be an isolated incident, but India has the highest rate of selfie related deaths. A study emerging last year claims that between March 2014 and September 2016, 60% of all selfie related deaths took place in the South Asian country. A joint study between Carnegie Mellon University and Indraprastha Institute of Information Delhi recorded 127 selfie related deaths in the two and a half year period. 76 of these occurred in India.
Many of these selfie deaths were related to nature and coming too close to wildlife. In one incident, a 17 year old girl died after being swept away by a wave while trying to take a selfie. In 2017, outside the parameters of the study, two other men were killed in wildlife related selfies in Odisha. The two men were killed by elephants in separate incidents as they tried to take selfies with the creatures.
Bhatara’s selfie with a bear and subsequent death is reminiscent of the shocking 2003 death of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard. Treadwell spent 13 summers living intimately amongst the aggressive grizzly bears in Alaska. For 12 years, they left the man mostly alone. However, in his final year, he stayed beyond the summer months, when bears become most desperate for food as winter approaches and food sources dry up.
Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked and eaten in their tent by an older bear. Like Bhatara’s selfie with a bear death, their death was also captured on camera, leading to the acclaimed documentary, Grizzly Man, in which experts weighed in on Treadwell’s dangerous obsession with the grizzly bears. Many considered his death to have been a suicide since any bear expert would not have stayed among the bears past the summer months.