Man Killed as He Takes Selfie With Injured Bear

sloth bear
A sloth bear wanders her enclosure with one of her cubs at Illinois's Brookfield Zoo on May 8, 2013. U.S. sloth bears are native to the Indian subcontinent. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A taxi driver was killed by a wounded bear in the Indian state of Odisha after trying to take a selfie with the animal.

Prabhu Bhatara was driving a group home from a wedding in the eastern state when he stopped to relieve himself, the Hindustan Times reported.

On his way back to his jeep, Bhatara spotted a wounded bear by the roadside. Thinking it would be a good chance for a selfie, he approached the wild animal. Fellow travelers urged Bhatara to stay a safe distance from the predator, but Bhatara's desire for a photo brought him within striking distance of the bear, which promptly grabbed the man and mauled him to death.

According to forest ranger Dhanurjaya Mohapatra, "Bhatara died on the spot." Some fellow passengers captured the attack on video, while others threw rocks and sticks at the bear in an attempt to free Bhatara. A stray dog also tried to fight the bear as it was attacking Bhatara but could not save him.

Forest rangers were unable to help the man, as their closest post was 6 miles from the site of the attack. Once they arrived, the rangers tranquilized the bear and recovered Bhatara's body. "The bear is being treated for its injuries," said Mohapatra.

Around $450 was given to the family to cover funeral costs, the Hindustan Times said. Local residents staged an impromptu protest following the mauling, blocking roads and demanding that larger compensation be paid to Bhatara's family. Forest officials said they would pay the compensation within 15 days.

It is not clear what species of bear killed Bhatara. India is home to three types: the Himalayan black bear, the brown bear and the sloth bear. The first two live in the northern Himalayan region of the country, and sloth bears live all over India, including Odisha.

The spread of human communities has put pressure on the approximately 20,000 sloth bears in India. They often stray onto local farmland in search of food, leading to confrontation with humans. One Indian research paper found that between 2001 and 2011, 81 people died and 712 people were injured in sloth bear attacks.

India sloth bear
A sloth bear owner says farewell to his bear after selling it to a rescue facility, on July 15, 2003. Sloth bears have long been exploited in India, made to dance for entertainment. ROB ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images

Sloth bears enjoy protected status in India and cannot be hunted. According to the Red List, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), sloth bears are "vulnerable," or one step up from endangered. The IUCN noted that the species was especially vulnerable due to its reliance on lowland areas, which are most readily used by humans. According to Wildlife SOS India, poachers also target bear cubs for use in Chinese medicines and gourmet cuisine in Southeast Asia.

Sloth bears were traditionally used for entertainment, forced to dance for spectators. The practice was made illegal in India in 1972, but enforcement was sporadic and facilities for rescued bears almost nonexistent. Wildlife SOS India claimed to have rescued the country's last dancing sloth bear in 2009.

"Given the lack of effective measures to control the rate of habitat loss and exploitation, sloth bear populations are expected to continue declining," the group said, estimating a more than 30 percent drop over the next 30 years.

The Hindustan Times said this was the third selfie-related animal death in Odisha in the past year. In December and September 2017, wild elephants killed two young men who tried to take a snap with the gigantic creatures.