Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus)

French: Ours À Collier, Ours De L'Himalaya, Ours Du Tibet, Ours Noir D'Asie
Spanish: Oso De Collar, Oso Negro De Asia
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyUrsidae
GenusUrsus (1)
SizeFemales: 40 - 140 kg (2)
Males: 60 - 200 kg (2)
Head-tail length: 1.2 - 1.9 m (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU - A1cd) on the IUCN Red List 2002 and listed on Appendix I of CITES (1).

Subspecies: Baluchistan bear (U.t.gedrosianus) is Critically Endangered (CR B1+2abc, C2a) (3).

This Asiatic bear has a similar appearance to its better-known American relative (the American black bear, Ursus americanus) with a stocky body, round head and large ears (4). The black coat is shaggy and there is a ruff of longer hairs around the neck (2). There is a crescent-shaped yellow/cream marking on the chest, which has led to this bear being called the 'moon bear' in some areas (5). The muzzle is also pale in colour (4).

Found through much of southern Asia, from Afghanistan to Taiwan. Also found in northeastern China, far eastern Russia and Japan (5). The Baluchistan bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus) is a Critically Endangered subspecies of the Asiatic black bear that is found in south Pakistan and Iran (2).

Inhabits temperate, subtropical and tropical forests (2).

Little is known about the natural ecology and behaviour of the Asiatic bear. Their diet varies depending on the season but, in common with most other bears, they are predominately herbivorous feeding on acorns, beech and other nuts as well as fruits and berries (6) These bears spend around half of their time in the trees (4), and construct platforms from branches and vegetation upon which they rest and feed (5). Females give birth to a litter of around 2 cubs in the safety of a winter den (6), often located within a tree hollow (5). Cubs stay with their mother for 1 to 1.5 years but, with the exception of these groupings, Asiatic black bears are fairly solitary (4). At the northern extreme of its range, black bears may go into hibernation to survive the cold winters, although further to the south, bears migrate to warmer areas and thus avoid the need for hibernation (4).

The Asiatic black bear has been hunted for centuries for its skin, paws and for the gall bladder, which is used in Oriental medicine (2). Recent deforestation across the Asian Continent is a major threat to the survival of the species (5). Habitat is cleared by logging practices, development and an encroaching human population. These bears may be regarded as a pest and consequently persecuted in some areas as they can destroy crops (5). In China, bears were taken from the wild to be kept in captivity as an important source of bile for medicine (5).

The Asiatic black bear is protected by law in all of the countries where it occurs, with the exception of Japan (2). It is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans international trade in this species (1). Law enforcement is extremely limited in much of its range and the control of poaching and smuggling is an important conservation priority (5). The protection of habitat is also vital to the survival of this species. The American black bear co-exists with its human neighbours fairly successfully (2), and education will play an important role if the same is going to happen for this bear.

For the Asiatic Bear Conservation Action Plan see:
http://iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1999-004.pdf For more information on the bear gall bladder demand see:
http://www.traffic.org/publications/summaries/summary-bear.html

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. UNEP-WCMC database (July, 2002) http://quin.unep-wcmc.org
  2. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. IUCN Red List (July, 2002) http://www.redlist.org./search/details.php?species=22827
  4. Animal Diversity Web (July, 2002) http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/ursus/u._thibetanus$narrative.html
  5. IUCN/SSC Bear and Polar Bear Specialist Groups (1998), Asiatic Black Bear Conservation Action Plan (July, 2002) http://www.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1999-004.pdf
  6. Burnie, D. [ed.] (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.