9 Asian Black Bear Facts: They Are Illegally Captured for Bile Extraction

Deep in the forests of Asia, a mysterious creature roams – the Asian black bear. With a crescent-shaped chest patch, an impressive tree-climbing ability, and a reputation in traditional medicine, these enigmatic bears have captured human fascination for centuries. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of the Asiatic black bear, uncovering some of the most intriguing and surprising facts about this amazing species.

Asian black bear
Scientific Name: Ursus thibetanus
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus

1. They have “tattoo” on their chest

The Asiatic black bear, or Asian black bear, possesses distinctive physical characteristics compared to other bears. Its thick and rough coat is often black or dark brown. The species has a round head, a long snout with light brown color, and abnormally enormous ears that protrude sideways from its head.

What sets the Asian black bear apart is the noticeable light-colored V-shaped marking on its chest. This characteristic gained them the names moon bear and white-chested bear.

The creatures are also intelligent and have a keen sense of hearing, which helps them survive in the environment.

Compared to brown bears, Asiatic Black Bears have a slimmer body and smaller skull. However, their lower jaws are much larger. These bears have broad, sharp paws, long, strong limbs, and a short tail.

The moon bears have an average size, ranging from 47.2 – 75 inches (1.20 – 1.90 m) in length and 27.5 – 39.4 inches (70 – 100 cm) in height. When standing on 2 legs, they measure about 60 – 66 inches (1.50 – 1.70 m), making them almost as tall as an average human. The female bears are smaller than their male counterparts.

There are about 7 types of Asian black bears, including Himalayan black bear, Formosan black bear, Japanese black bear, Ussuri black bear, Indochinese black bear, Balochistan black bear, and Tibetan black bear. (1)

2. Asian black bear Habitat

As the name suggests, these bear species come from Asia. They can be found in the mountain ranges and forests of the region. They live in a range of environments, from moist forests such as broad-leaf and conifer forests to even plantations, as well as steep mountains and areas with dense vegetation.

A cute Asian black bear

While these bears typically reside in tropical places with year-round access to fruits and leaves, they also live in temperate zones with four seasons. You can see them in many nations, including Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, the foothills of the Himalayas, North and South Korea, Japan, Myanmar, China, and even Russia, and other Asian countries.

They survive at a variety of heights, ranging from sea level up to 14,000 feet (4,300 meters). During the summer months, they tend to travel to higher altitudes of about 11,480-12,000 feet (3,499-3,700 meters). They barely inhabit higher than this elevation. In contrast, during the winter season, they descend to lower altitudes of around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters).

3. They are great athletes

The Asian black bear prefers a solitary lifestyle and often spends around half of its life in trees. This place provides the bears with comfortable living conditions and serves as a hunting ground that keeps them safe from predators.

Although older adults may become too heavy to climb, these animals are skilled climbers due to their strong upper body. They can still climb trees even if their rear legs are wounded. When descending from trees, they slide down tail-first.

These species are also good swimmers and runners, capable of reaching speeds up to 40 km/h (25 mph) while running on all fours.

Asian black bears typically move on all four legs, but they are the most bipedal of all bears and can stand on their rear legs to fight or attack. They have been observed walking upright for more than a quarter mile. Their walking pace is shaky, and their gallop is awkward.

While Asian black bears typically live a solitary life, they can also reside in familial units comprised of two adult bears and two offspring. They’re active during the day, but they may switch to a nocturnal lifestyle when living close to human settlements. In the autumn season, when there is more food, their nighttime activity tends to increase.

4. Asiatic black bears in culture

According to Hindu mythology, Jambavantha, a black bear, is said to have existed from the Treta Yuga to the Dvapara Yuga. In the epic Ramayana, Jambavantha helps Rama find his spouse Sita and defeat her kidnapper, Ravana.

The Asiatic black bear holds significant traditional importance in Japanese culture, as it is commonly associated with the mountain spirit. It is known by various names, such as “mountain man”, “mountain father”, “mountain uncle”, and even as a loving mother and child. Additionally, due to its solitary nature, the bear is also regarded as a “lonely person”.

5. Not all bears hibernate

Not all Asiantic black bears hibernate. This will be determined by the habitat in which they live. Bears residing in tropical areas have access to abundant food all year round. That’s why they just need to change their altitudes seasonally.

On the other hand, in colder, northern regions, bears face difficulty finding food during winter. Hence they must hibernate to survive. These species begin preparing their dens in mid-October and remain there, in a deep sleep from November until March.

Moon bears can stay on trees eating for their hibernation

Before hibernating, they consume copious amounts of nuts in autumn. They can even make platforms from branches in trees to leisurely stay there and feast all day.

Pregnant female bears, no matter where they live, also go into hibernation.

6. They communicate in many ways

Asian black bears emit a variety of sounds, such as slurping sounds, grunts, roars, and whines. When they are injured, startled, or enraged, the bears can produce “an atrocious row!” During conflicts, they may hiss loudly as a warning or scream while fighting. They make “tut tut” sounds when approaching other bears, while clucking noises are used during courtship.

Asiatic black bear is roaring

Aside from vocal communication, these bears also communicate through physical behavior, such as showing dominance or submission. Making growling noises or snapping their jaws can be a sign of apprehension or aggression.

They also have a keen sense of smell, which aids in communicating. They mark their territories by urination or rubbing against trees.

While bears are generally timid and tend to steer clear of humans, they may attack if they feel threatened or are protecting their young. However, they may become aggressive and attack humans without provocation.

7. Eating and being eaten

The Asian bear is a versatile omnivore, consuming a variety of plants and animals. Insects (like grubs, bees, termites, and beetle larvae) form a crucial component of their diet. Thanks to their keen sense of smell, the Asiatic moon bears can detect insects as deep as 3.3 feet (1 meter) underground.

In addition to insects, their regular diet includes rodents, fish, invertebrates, eggs, birds, mushrooms, seeds, herbs, grain, nuts, honey, grasses, dogwood, acorns, fruits, or even garbage. They also consume mammals like sheep or goats and scavenge on carrion. The bears may even steal prey killed by tigers when they are not watching.

The food they eat is dependent on their geographical location and the time of year. During spring, they may feed on young leaves, while fruits and insects are favored in summer, and nuts become a staple diet in fall.

Asian black bears face threats from various predators. Adult bears are at risk of being hunted by leopards, tigers, packs of wolves, and dholes, while Eurasian lynxes pose a threat to the cubs.

(In forested areas, black bears typically emerge victorious in physical confrontations with leopards, whereas leopards usually prevail in open terrain.

8. Reproduction

The moon bears usually reach sexual maturity at the age of 3 – 4 years old. These species do not reproduce every year, but instead, at most, every other year. Their mating season occurs between June and July.

After mating, the bears will search for a secure den, such as a hole in the ground, a hollow tree, or a crack in the rocks. The female will experience a gestation period of 7 to 8 months and give birth from March – April. The average number of cubs born per litter is 2, although in rare cases, this number can go up to 5.

Their cubs look like dogs

Asiatic black bear cubs typically nurse for 104-130 weeks. They remain with their mother for 12-18 months before achieving independence at 3 years.

The average lifespan of Asian black bears is about 25 years. However, in captivity, they can live longer. Their life expectancy is about 30-33 years or even longer. The oldest moon bear in captivity passed away at the age of 44.

9. They are endangered

According to the IUCN, the Asian black bear is considered vulnerable due to habitat loss and illegal hunting. Their population is only around 50,000 remaining worldwide.

The bears are specifically targeted for their body parts, particularly their gallbladder, which are used in traditional medicines in some Asian countries. Tragically, the number of bears being killed exceeds the number of cubs being born, exacerbating the population decline.

Illegal practices such as keeping bears as pets, exhibiting them, and fighting them with dogs still occur in certain locations, despite being prohibited.

Meanwhile, the destruction of their natural habitats has reduced their living space, pushing them closer to human settlements. Furthermore, the expansion of agriculture has resulted in more frequent conflicts between humans and animals. The bears have begun preying on cattle and attacking humans with greater frequency.

They are captured to take gallbladder



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