Of the eight surviving bear species in the world today, six are endangered or vulnerable to being endangered. This article lists the different species and subspecies of endangered and vulnerable bears, with pictures and descriptions of each.
Bears are beautiful and amazing creatures. Some species are fast and fierce predators with acute senses of hearing and smell while others are mostly gentle grazers when left alone. The first bears started to appear in North America 38 million years ago. More species of bears started to appear in Europe, Asia and Africa 5 million years ago. Today there are only eight species of bears that survive. One subspecies is considered critically endangered, one species and two subspecies are endangered, while five species are vulnerable with decreasing numbers. These are based on data from the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN as well as definitions set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
*Critically Endangered Bears*
1. Baluchistan Bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus)
The Baluchistan bear is a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear. They can be found in an area called Baluchistan that spans parts of Pakistan and Iran. Compared to other Asiatic black bears, Baluchistan bears are smaller and have thinner fur but they possess sharper claws. Due to the rapid destruction of their forest habitat as well as their capture for their skin, paws, and gallbladder, Baluchistan bear numbers are severely dropping. Only 10 to 20 bears remain as of 1998. The Baluchistan bear was classified as critically endangered in the 1996 Red List of Threatened Species by the IUCN. It is also nationally listed as critically endangered in Pakistan.
2. Formosan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus formosanus)
The Formosan black bear is another subspecies of the Asiatic black bear. It is so called because it can only be found in the mountainous forests of Taiwan. Because of severe exploitation and habitat degradation, Formosan black bear numbers have severely dropped with only 15 bears radio collared in Taiwan’s Yushan National Park as of year 2000. It was declared an endangered species under the Taiwan's government’s Natural and Cultural Heritage Act of 1989.
3. Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
The giant panda is a popular bear with characteristic black-and-white markings. It is endemic to south-Central China. Today there are only between 1,000 to 2,000 giant pandas left in the wild, and their numbers continue to plunge as they are faced with habitat deforestation, capture, and overhunting. It was declared endangered by the IUCN’s Red List since 1990 and is listed under Appendix I (for endangered species threatened with extinction) of CITES.
4. Manchurian/Ussuri Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus ussuricus)
The Manchurian or Ussuri black bear is a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear that is native to Siberia, Northeast China and South Korea. They have the characteristic white collar of Asiatic black bears but have larger ears compared to their cousins. The Manuchiram black bear was declared as endangered by the South Korean Ministry of Environment in 2008.
5. Asiatic/Himalayan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus)
The Asiatic or Himalayan black bear is a species of bear found throughout Asia. It has several subspecies – among them the Chinese Black bear (Ursus thibetanus melli) and Sichuan or Indochinese Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus mupinensis) in addition to the other subspecies listed above. Asiatic black bears number less than 25,000. Their population continues to dwindle due to the rapid loss of their forest and mountain habitats as well as overhunting. These bears are especially valued for their bile and gall bladder which are believed to have powerful healing properties. These fetch thousands of dollars in the international market. Their paws and skin are also traded for ornamentation. The Asiatic black bear is classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN’s Red List since 1990 and is listed under Appendix I (species endangered and threatened with extinction) of CITES.
6. Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus)
The sun bear is the smallest and least known of all eight bear species. They are also the only tropical bears in the world. They live in the lowland tropical rain forests of China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Malaysia. The sun bear was classified as vulnerable by the IUCN in 2008 and is listed under Appendix I of CITES. There are three subspecies of the sun bear– the Annam sun bear (Helarctos malayanus anmamiticus), Bornean sun bear (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) and the Yunnan Malay Bear (Helarctos malayanus wardi).
7. Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus)
The sloth bear is known for its long shaggy coat and white nuzzle. It is the only bear species with long hair on its ears. The bear is endemic to India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal. There are less than 20,000 sloth bears living today, which is why the IUCN has classified it as a vulnerable species in 2008. Deforestation, land conversion, expansion of human settlements, and poaching has led to the continuing decline in sloth bear numbers. The species is also listed under Appendix I of CITES.
8. Spectacled Bear/Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
The spectacled bear, easily distinguishable by its raccoon-like “spectacles”, can only be seen in the Andes mountains ranging from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, to Bolivia. It is the only living bear species in South America. There are less than 20,000 of these bears living today, warranting them vulnerable status by the IUCN. They are also listed under Appendix I of CITES.
9. Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
The cute, cuddly and hugely popular polar bear faces population trouble, too. Because of the dramatic decline in their numbers – greater than 30% in the last 45 years, with only between 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears living today - the polar bear was classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN in 2008. Climate change is seen as an increasing threat to their habitat and survival.
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Photo credit (Primary Image/Thumb):
World Society for the Protection of Animals (n.d.). Asiatic black bear. Retrieved from http://www.ejfoundation.org/modules/PagEd/medipics/WSPA-asiatic-black-bear.jpg