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Biological Information on the Asiatic Black Bear

Laura E. Tsai


Animal Legal and Historical Center
Publish Date:
2008
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
Printable Version

Biological Information on the Asiatic Black Bear

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Asiatic black bears, commonly called moon bears, are one of the world's eight bear species. Moon bears are medium-sized bears averaging 4.5 - 5.4 feet in height, and weighing 198-254 pounds. Males are larger than females, and may weigh up to 400 pounds.

Moon bears are usually black or brown-black with a distinct white or yellow crescent-shape "moon" on their chest, and a white patch on their chin. They have large, round heads and large ears.

Moon bears are found across Asia, with numerous subspecies inhabiting areas from Pakistan to Japan. They are skilled climbers and prefer high altitudes and heavily forested areas. They are typically solitary animals that sleep most of the day in hollow logs, caves, or trees. They often hibernate (depending on their location) from November to March. Moon bears may also migrate, spending the warm months at higher altitudes, and the colder months at lower altitudes.

Moon bears are classified as carnivores, yet they follow an omnivore diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, small mammals and birds. They are highly intelligent and vocal, making different noises during play, when warning others, or when they are about to attack.

Little is know of the mating cycles of moon bears, as the gestation period may include delayed implantation of the embryo, which assures that cubs are born in the spring. Bears usually give birth to twin cubs in April or May. Cubs are weaned at four months, but often stay with their mother for two years. Bears generally begin breeding at age 4 or 5, and live 25-30 years in the wild. They can survive for 35 years in captivity.
 
As the most bipedal of the bear species, moon bears stand on their hind legs with ease. This skill has been exploited by circuses across Asia, and for "dancing bear" acts in India and bear fights in Pakistan.
 
Although most bear species are affected by the use of their gallbladders and bile in traditional Chinese medicine, moon bears are the most threatened by this practice. Moon bears are also threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting of their skins and paws. The international trade in bear parts and bile is further threatening bear populations. Currently no reliable population estimates exist, with estimates in China ranging from 16,000 to 50,000 bears, while some estimates of the total Asia-wide population are as low as 25,000. About 8,000 moon bears suffer on bile farms in China, the country with the largest number of bear farms. Given the rate of habitat loss and exploitation, the population has likely declined by 30-49% over the past 30 years. This downward trend will likely continue unless measures are taken to conserve the existing population. 
 
Moon bears are currently listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and on Appendix I of the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans the trade of moon bears and their parts.

References:
1) Animals Asia Foundation, Scientific Facts, available at www.animalsasia.org.
2) International Fund for Animal Welfare, Asiatic Black Bear or Moon Bear, available at www.ifaw.org.
3) IUCN Red List, Ursus Thibetanus, available at www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/22824/summ.

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