In Pakistan, in a popular sport called Bear Baiting, the Asiatic black bears are made to fight bull terriers, with their claws and teeth removed, so that the bears cannot defend themselves from the onslaught of the dogs.
Also known as the Asian black bear, the moon bear, and the white-chested bear, Asiatic black bear or Ursus thibetanus is a species of medium-sized bear, native to Central, Southern, and Southeast Asia. It belongs to the family Ursidae and is very similar to the American black bear, Ursus americanus, with respect to its size, appearance, and behavioral traits. Hence, it has been suggested that both these species may have shared a common ancestor, some four million years ago. Moreover, some scientists have proposed that the Asiatic black bear may be the ancestor of the other existing species of bears.
The Asiatic black bear has seven extant subspecies, which include:
- Formosan black bear (Ursus thibetanus formosanus), native to Taiwan
- Baluchistan bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus), native to southern Baluchistan
- Japanese black bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus), native to Honshū and Shikoku
- Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus laniger), native to Kashmir, Himalayas, and Sikkim
- Inchochinese black bear (Ursus thibetanus mupinensis), native to Himalaya and Indochina
- Tibetan black bear (Ursus thibetanus thibetanus), native to Thailand, Burma, Nepal, the Annam (French Protectorate), and the Indian state of Assam
- Ussuri black bear (Ursus thibetanus ussuricus), native to the Korean peninsula, southern Siberia, and northeastern China
◆ The fur that surrounds the shoulders and throat is longer than that on rest of the body.
◆ It bears a large head and bell-shaped ears, which are relatively longer than those of the other bear species.
◆ Its limbs are strong and thickly set, which enable the bear to stand and walk in an upright posture. The Asiatic black bear is known to walk on its hind limbs for as far as quarter of a mile.
◆ This ursine species has an impressively long snout, giving it a very strong sense of smell. This enables the animal to locate its food and figure out its surroundings.
◆ However, much like the other bear species, its senses of vision and hearing are weak.
◆ On an average, the body of an Asiatic black bear is 4.6 to 5.4 feet long. Moreover, mature males weigh between 220 - 440 lbs, while the mature females weigh between 143 - 198 lbs.
◆ These bears survive up to about 25 years in the wild. However, they are known to survive up to around 30 years in captivity.
Distribution and Habitat
◆ Originally, the Asiatic black bear was found all over Asia and Europe. However, after the Late Pleistocene period (11,700 million years ago), two of its subspecies viz. the Ursus thibetanus mediterraneus (that was found in western Europe and the Caucasus) and the Ursus thibetanus permjak (that was found in eastern Europe) went extinct.
◆ Fossil records show that the bear was also found in France and Germany; however, now its range is limited only to Central, Southern, and Southeast Asia in the countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Japan, Russia, Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Taiwan, Bhutan, South Korea, Mongolia, and Cambodia.
◆ The bear seems to have disappeared from Malaysia, perhaps owing to the overlapping of its habitat with that of the Sun bear.
◆ They are found mainly at lower altitudes in thickly forested areas. However, during summer, they go to elevated regions rising about 1,000 feet high.
◆ They are known to inhabit the Asian deciduous and coniferous forests and brush lands.
◆ While foraging for food high in the trees, they unintentionally build "nests". These nest-like structures are formed when the bears collect twigs, break the branches of the trees, and place them under themselves as they eat while on trees. In these "nests", they also tend to rest for short time spans.
◆ Although most Asiatic black bears simply move to lower elevations during winter, some of them residing in the more northern, colder regions, prefer to hibernate.
◆ The bears that hibernate in winter, spend their entire autumn consuming foods, such as beechnuts, walnuts, and acorns, which are rich in fat content. The layer of fat that is then formed in their body, keeps them sustained throughout the period of their hibernation.
◆ The hibernation season is usually from November to April; however, in the southern parts of Russia, where the winters tend to be very hostile, they are known to hibernate from early October through late May.
◆ Researches on their behavioral patterns tell us that the bears are primarily diurnal in nature, meaning that they remain active during the day and sleep during the night. However, owing to the human encroachment of their habitats, they also tend to remain nocturnally active many a time.
◆ Known to be particularly solitary in nature, the bears are found together either during their mating season, or while they are defending their territory from a trespasser.
◆ In case of an external threat or violent attack, the bear stands upright. This makes the animal appear bigger than it actually is, thus, at times, deterring the enemy.
◆ They tend to breed during the warmer months of the year, especially in June and July.
◆ The gestation period for these mammals lasts for about six to eight months, after which the cubs are born.
◆ A single litter comprises between one to four cubs. A sow gives birth to its cubs in the winter den, between March and April. These dens are generally found, depending on the region, along the river beds or in the rocky outcrops.
◆ The newborns do not have any hair on their bodies, and therefore, depend completely on the warmth of their mother and her den.
◆ The cubs can consume solid food only after they grow six months old. However, they remain with their mother until the age of three, after which they become independent.
◆ After a gap of about two to three years, the sows breed their second litter.
◆ Interestingly, the cubs can be often seen walking behind their mother in a sort of a procession, in the descending order of their size.
◆ Their diet mainly consists of beetle larvae, termites, grubs, bees, carrion, eggs, mushrooms, grasses, nuts and seeds, herbs, honey, acorns, cherries, dogwood, bamboo shoots and leaves, and grains.
◆ When their food seems to be in a short supply, they are also known to eat small birds and rodents.
◆ In the regions where there is heavy human encroachment on the bears' natural habitats, these bears are known to invade agricultural plantations and feed on the livestock from farms.
◆ With respect to predators, tigers are a major threat for Asiatic black bears. The cubs are particularly vulnerable.
◆ In Russia, they are often vulnerable to attacks by packs of wolves.
◆ Moreover, in regions where the Asiatic black bears' habitat tends to overlap with that of other kinds of bears, the cubs of either of the species are vulnerable.
◆ Historical sources tell us that Asiatic black bears have been hunted throughout their range for as many as 3,000 years.
◆ Reportedly, several "useful" products can be extracted from different body parts of these bears.
- Their fur and meat are highly valued.
- The bile, extracted from their gallbladders, is believed to cure numerous diseases. It is also thought to counter toxic effects.
- A special kind of glue, extracted from its bones is used as a tonic.
- Its fat is used for making traditional Chinese medicine.
◆ Moreover, the large-scale deforestation and developmental projects have led to a lot of these animals losing their natural habitat, thus, being more vulnerable to external threats.
◆ Despite their shy and solitary nature, Asiatic black bears are known to be extremely aggressive towards humans, even without provocation. There have also been reports of a number of human fatalities, owing to attacks by these bears.
◆ Today, mainly owing to the human intervention in their natural habitat, these bears are dwindling in numbers, all across their geographic range. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included them in their Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable. This means that the creatures may face the threat of extinction in the near future.
Asiatic black bears have been protected in various regions of Asia. For instance, in China, they have been protected under the National Protection Wildlife Law, which subjects people who hunt or capture these animals without permits to a severe punishment. Similarly, in India, they have been protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act against illegal poaching.