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< Syrian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos syriacus)

Asiatic Black Bear (Himalayan black bear) (Ursus thibetanus)


Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus: Ursus

Species: Ursus thibetanus

 

Description

The Asiatic Black Bear, also known as Ursus thibetanus, consists of several subspecies including the Tibetan Black Bear, the Himalayan Black Bear, and Japanese Black Bear.  The Himalayan Black Bear, or the Moon Bear, is a medium sized, sharp-clawed, black-colored bear. These have a distinct white or cream "V" marking on the chest, for which it is referred to as moon bear in some areas.

The size differs between males and females. Males typically weigh 110 to 150 kg, while females weigh 65 to 90 kg. The head and body measure 120 to 180 cm in length, while the tail is an additional 6.5 to 10.6 cm. The head is large and rounded, and the eyes are small. The ears are large and are set farther apart than on an American Black Bear. The body is heavy, the legs are thick and strong, and the paws are broad, standing in a plantigrade stance. The tail is short and is barely visible under a long, coarse coat.

Habitat and Range

The Asiatic Black Bear generally inhabits upper subtropical and lower moist temperate zones. They are found in East Asia and South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Burma, southern Siberia, Russia, northeastern China, Taiwan and Japan. In India, Asiatic Black Bears are found occupying Himalayan foothills, at a height of less than 3,750 m.

Behavior

Asiatic Black Bears are primarily nocturnal feeders and sleep in a tree hole or in a cave during the daytime, but they do sometimes forage diurnally. During the autumn, their nocturnal activity increases. They shift their ranges in early autumn in order to obtain native broadleaved food species (mast crops) at lower elevations. They are powerful swimmers, and their short (5.08 cm) claws make them adept tree climbers. They are plantigrade, and typically walk on four feet, but when they fight, they stand up on their two hind feet and slap their enemy with their forepaws. Asiatic Black Bears usually avoid man and only attack when they are wounded or trying to protect their young, but unprovoked attacks have been documented many times throughout history.

Not all Asiatic Black Bears hibernate, though many do. They store fat during the late summer to use during the winter months of hibernation. Some may sleep the entire winter period, while others may only hibernate for the worst periods of winter weather. Asiatic Black Bears behave as other bears during hibernation; they do not excrete urea or solid fecal material, instead converting the waste material to proteins. During periods of hibernation, the heartbeat drops from 40 to 70 beats per minute to 8 to 12 beats per minute, and the metabolic rate decreases by 50%. The body temperature decreases by only 3 to 7 degrees Centigrade. Due to the fact that the body temperature of U. thibetanus, as well as many other bears, does not substantially drop and the bear can be easily awakened, some ecophysiologists do not consider the bear's period of inactivity to be true hibernation. Others argue that it is true hibernation, due to the fact that the pulse rate drops by 50%.

Exceptional sight, hearing, and smell are characteristics of the Himalayan Black Bear. No studies are available as to the exact form of communication between Asiatic Black Bears though. However, extensive research has been conducted on other members of the family, Ursidae, that have senses similar to those of the Asiatic Black Bear. Using evidence from these studies, it can be inferred that Asiatic Black Bears communicate vocally and use their heightened sense of hearing to aid in listening to these vocalizations. For example, when bear cubs are separated from their mothers, they make crying calls. Low guttural noises can be indications of a bear being apprehensive, and clicking the teeth together is an indication of aggressiveness.

Bears often communicate visually with each other by the way in which they move or behave in the presence of other bears; for example, the behavior of a bear can convey either dominant or subordinate status to another. To indicate subordinate status, a bear moves away, or sits or lies down. To convey dominance, a bear walks or runs towards a rival.

Bears use their acute sense of smell in order to communicate with other members of their species; they do so by urinating, defecating, and by rubbing against trees to leave their scent for other bears to detect.

Diet

Indian Black Bears are omnivorous. Their diet depends upon the season as well as the availability of food. The fall season is the time for having acorns, chestnuts, walnuts, and other fatty food. In spring season, they survive on a diet of bamboo, raspberry, hydrangea, and other plants, along with rodent's caches of acorns. Summer season is perfect for having raspberries, cherries, grasses and ants. Asiatic Black Bears are also known to attack livestock at times.

Asiatic Black Bears most often feed diurnally. However, their nocturnal activity increases through autumn. This occurs because the bears must increase their food intake in order to store body fat for insulation and caloric needs for use during harsh winters and hibernation. Asiatic Black Bears seem to be able to shift their circadian rhythm in order to obtain desired foods; for example, when raiding crops, they are more likely to do so at night in order to avoid contact with humans. Asiatic Black Bears posses an acute sense of smell that lets them locate grubs and other insects up to 3 feet (approximately 1 meter) below the ground. When food production and availability is poor, Asiatic Black Bears have been known to strip the bark off of trees in order to supplement their deficient diet with nutrients. Their normal diet consists of fruits, roots and tubers, as well as small invertebrates and vertebrates, and carrion. However, cases in which they eat buffalo by breaking the neck have been documented. They also eat other prey they find that tigers have killed.

Asiatic Black Bears have been known to eat any available food source, including the livestock and produce of farms. Their proclivity for domestic animals and crops has made humans target them, and Asiatic Black Bears are often killed while trying to feed.

Breeding

The breeding season of Black Bears is from mid June to mid August and birth occurs in mid January. Sows generally have their first litter at the age of three years.  Sows usually give birth in caves or hollow trees in winter or early spring after a gestation period of 200–240 days.  Cubs weigh 13 ounces at birth, and will begin walking at four days of age, and open their eyes three days later. Litters can consist of 1–4 cubs, with 2 being the average. Cubs have a slow growth rate, reaching only 2.5 kg by May.  Black Bear cubs will nurse for 104–130 weeks, and become independent at 24–36 months. There is usually a 2–3 year interval period before females produce subsequent litters.  The average lifespan in the wild is 25 years, while the oldest Asian Black Bear in captivity died at the age of 44.

Conservation Status

The Himalayan Black Bear is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. One of the major reasons that have contributed to the declining population of Black Bears is rampant deforestation and habitat loss. Asiatic Black Bears also face threat from farmers, who kill them in order to protect their livestock.

Threats

Encroachment of human population, forest fires and the timber industries, have all reduce the bears' habitat. There is also a high mortality rate among the newborn. And even though hunting of the Himalayan Black Bear has been forbidden since 1977, there is still a large problem with poaching.

Diversity of habitats and food is important in providing alternative foods when one food source fails. As a result of deforestation and other human activities, however, the diversity of habitats is being destroyed. Even in the protected areas, there is not enough variety to fully support the Asiatic Black Bears. As a result, each population of Asiatic Black Bears is becoming increasingly isolated.

Population studies in 2001 in Japan found that different populations of Asiatic Black Bears were becoming genetically isolated from each other. Even between the two closest populations, there was a low but significant amount of genetic differentiation. In the individual populations, genetic diversity was decreasing. Since each population was changing and evolving separately, genetic isolation between the populations is a problem that needs to be addressed, and conservation efforts must be initiated.

Short Facts

·      Asiatic Black Bears are notoriously aggressive towards humans and there are numerous records of human attacks and killings. This is mainly due to the fact that they are more likely to come into contact with humans, and they will often attack if surprised.  For that reason, the species was described as "the most bizarre of the ursine species."

·      These bears are sometimes called moon bears because of the characteristic white crescent marking on their chest.  Every moon bear's chest markings are different in colour and shape, ranging from pale yellow to deep orange-gold, from deep Vs to delicate crescents. Some are even speckled!

·      Himalayan Black Bears love water and like nothing more than swimming and splashing around!

·      It's no myth – bears really do love honey and are believed to be able to smell it from up to 5 kilometres away!