By Eleanor Warren-Thomas
Asian black bear
Asian black bear
Scientific Name: Ursus thibetanus
Asiatic Black Bears live in forests but they aren't picky about which type - they can be found in broad-leaf (deciduous) forests, conifer forests and even plantations. They live at lots of different altitudes too, from sea level, up to 4,300 metres (14,000 feet)! Asiatic Black Bears are found in many countries, across a wide range. They live as far West as southeast Iran, and their range goes through Afghanistan, Pakistan, the foothills (bottom) of the Himalayas, and into Burma (also known as Myanmar). Their range then extends through the mainland of southeast Asia, in patches across China, southern Far East Russia, and North and South Korea. They also live on the southern islands of Japan. You can see a map of their range here: iucnredlist.org
These bears aren't choosy about what they eat, and pick a whole variety of foods. They eat lots of vegetation, such as juicy shoots and leaves of plants, fruits, nuts, insects, and even sometimes meat which they either kill themselves, or scavenge (find already killed). The type of food they eat depends on where they live, and which season it is. Although they live in tropical areas, where fruits and leaves are available all year round, they also live in temperate areas where there are four seasons. Many Asiatic black bears migrate seasonally, spending warmer months at higher altitudes, then descending during colder months. Here, they eat young leaves in spring, fruits and insects in summer and nuts in the autumn. The bears that live in tropical areas can find lots of food available all year round, but in temperate areas food is hard to find in winter, so they must hibernate through the cold weather, and wake up in time for the new leaves. They must eat lots and lots of nuts in autumn in order to get them through their hibernation, so when they find a tree full of nuts, they often build a platform in it made of branches, so they can sit there and eat all day long! Female bears also hibernate in the tropical areas, but this isn't because they can't find enough food - it is because they need to be somewhere safe to have their cubs. They will find a den (a hole in the ground, or a crevice in the rocks) where they feel safe, and will stay there while they have their cubs and let them grow up a little bit in safety. They generally breed during June-July, and the females give birth to cubs between November and March. They don't breed until they are 4 or 5 years old, and they only have 1 or 2 cubs at a time. They don't breed every year, but every other year at most, as the cubs stay with their mother for 12-18 months. This means that it takes a long time for the population to grow. Asiatic Black Bears can live for about 30 years, although they often don't get this old in the wild.
The IUCN Red List, which is a worldwide record of all endangered species, says that the Asiatic Black Bear is 'Vulnerable'. This means that scientists are concerned about the future survival of the species. Although nobody knows exactly how the population of Asiatic Black Bears is changing, the habitat that they live in is being destroyed, meaning there is less space for Asiatic Black Bears to live in, and we know that the population is getting smaller. Asiatic Black Bears are also hunted illegally because people use their body parts for things like medicine and sometimes food in China and Korea. There are more bears being killed in the wild than the numbers of cubs being born, which means that the population is falling. People also sometimes take bears from the wild to keep as pets, to put in exhibitions, and sometimes to fight them with dogs. These practices are illegal, but sadly still happen in some places. It's not all bad news though - thanks to conservation efforts, numbers of Asiatic Black Bears are increasing in Japan.
There are lots of people working to try and stop the populations of Asiatic Black Bears from falling. They are working on things like reducing illegal hunting, increasing the number of protected areas where bears can live in peace, and in some places reintroducing captive bred bears back into the wild.
There are lots of other names for the Asiatic Black Bear, including Himalayan Black Bear, the Moon Bear, and the White Chested Bear. This is because of the markings on the bear's chest which make a half moon shape - you can just see this in the picture above. Visit this website to see some more pictures of the bears (including some cubs!): Arkive.org
There are seven sub-species of the Asiatic Black Bear. These are populations of bears that live in different areas, and because they have lived so far apart for such a long time, they have evolved a little differently to each other. However, they are still part of the same species, so they are called subspecies. For example, the Forsmosan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus formosanus) lives only in Taiwan, and doesn't have the thick ruff of fur around its neck that all the other subspecies have. There is more information about the subspecies here: Wikipedia
Female bears are smaller than males, weighing up to 140kg/308 lbs. Big male bears can weigh up to 200kg/440 lbs!. They are about 1.2 - 1.9 meters long (4 - 6 feet) and they look quite similar to their close relations, the American Black Bear.
Asiatic Black Bears are diurnal, which means they are usually active in the daytime, but when they live near people, they can become nocturnal - probably because they are afraid of people.
The bears make all sorts of noises to communicate with each other. These include grunts, whines, roars, slurping sounds (sometimes made when feeding) and can make "an appalling row" when wounded, alarmed or angry! They sometimes make loud hissing noises as warnings or threats, and scream when fighting. When approaching other bears, they produce "tut tut" noises and when courting, they make clucking sounds.
Asiatic Black Bears have their own enemies - leopards, packs of wolves and dholes (a species of wild dogs) can be threats to adult bears, and Eurasian lynx are a threat to cubs. In physical confrontations between black bears and leopards, the bears usually dominate in forests, while leopards tend to win in open areas. Tigers prey on black bears, killing them for food, but people are now their main predators. In return, black bears sometimes steal prey that tigers have killed (when the tiger isn't looking of course...).
Although the bears are usually shy, they do occasionally attack people and are more aggressive than other bear species. It is thought that this is because they live in the same places of tigers who may prey on them, and have evolved to be ready to fight when they are scared.
You can visit an Asiatic Black Bear called Ben at Philadelphia Zoo! (as of 22 Feb 2011): Philadelphia Zoo
You can watch a video about the bears here! National Geographic
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