Asian Black Bear

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Asian Black Bear

The Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), also called the moon bear, Asiatic black bear, and white-chested bear is a medium-sized bear species endemic to Asia.

It lives in the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, the Himalayas, the Russian Far East, the Korean Peninsula, northeastern China, Taiwan, and the Honshū and Shikoku islands of Japan.

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The Asian black bear is classified on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable, because of hunting for its body parts and deforestation. It is known to be aggressive towards humans, who frequently kill or trap them for traditional medicine.

Table of Contents

Scientific classification

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyUrsidae
GenusUrsus
SpeciesU. thibetanus

Subspecies classification

SubspeciesDescriptionDistribution
Formosan black bear (Ursus thibetanus)It lacks the thick neck fur of other subspecies.Taiwan.
Balochistan black bear or Pakistan black bear (Ursus thibetanus)It has relatively short, coarse hair, often reddish-brown rather than black.Southern Balochistan.
Japanese black bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus)A small subspecies weighing between 60 to 120 kg for the adult male and 40 to 100 kg for the adult female. The average body length is 110 to 140 cm. It has a darker-coloured snout and lacks the thick neck fur of other subspecies.Honshū and Shikoku but extinct on Kyushu.
Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus laniger)On average, they measure from 56 – 65 inches nose to tail and weigh from 200 – 265 pounds.The Himalayas, Kashmir, and Sikkim.
Indochinese black bear (Ursus thibetanus mupinensis)Light-coloured and similar to Ursus thibetanus laniger.Indochina and the Himalayas.
Tibetan black bear (Ursus thibetanus thibetanus)Distinct from the Himalayan species, it has short, thin coat with little to no underwool.Nepal, Assam, Mergui, Myanmar, Annam, and Thailand.
Ussuri black bear (Ursus thibetanus ussuricus)The largest subspecies.Northeastern China, southern Siberia, and the Korean peninsula.

Characteristics

The Asian black bear is black, with a distinct white patch on the chest (which sometimes is V-shaped), and has a light brown muzzle.

Its tail is 4.3 in (11 cm) long. Adults measure 28 to 39 in (70 to 100 cm) at the shoulder, and 47 to 75 in (120 to 190 cm) in length.

Adult males weigh 130 to 440 lb (60 to 200 kg) with an average weight of about 298 lb (135 kg). Adult females weigh 88 to 276 lb (40 to 125 kg), and large ones up to 310 lb (140 kg).

Similar to the brown bear, the Asian black bear has the same general appearance, but is more slender limbed and is more lightly built.

The nose and lips are more mobile and larger than those of brown bears. The skull of an Asian black bear is relatively small, but massive, especially in the lower jaw.

Adult males have skulls measuring 12.27 – 12.91 in (311.7 – 328 mm) in length and 7.85 to 8.98 in (199.5 to 228 mm) in width, while female skulls are 11.48 to 12.40 in (291.6 to 315 mm) long and 6.4 to 6.8 in (163 to 173 mm) wide.

Distinct from other herbivorous animals such as giant pandas, the jaw structure of the Asian black bear is not specialised for plant-eating.

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Compared to the polar bear, an Asian black bear have powerful upper body for climbing trees, and relatively weak hind legs which are shorter than those in American black bear and brown bear. Among all bears, the Asian black bear is the most bipedal and are known to walk upright for more than a quarter-mile.

Compared to other bears, the heel pads on the forefeet are larger. Their claws, which are primarily used for digging and climbing, are slightly longer on the forefoot (30 to 45 mm) than the back (18 to 36 mm) and are more hooked and larger than those of the American black bear.

A famous British sportsman nicknamed as the “Old Shekarry” wrote of how the Asian black bear he shot in India probably weighed no less than 800 lb (363 kg), which he based on how many people it took to lift it. The largest Asian black bear ever recorded allegedly weighed 440 lb (200 kg).

Zoo- kept Asian black bears can weigh up to 496 lb (225 kg). Compared to the brown bear, the Asian black bear senses are more acute, although its eyesight is poor and its hearing range is moderate, with the upper limit being 30 kHz.

Reproduction

Sows have their first litter at the age of 3 years. 14% of the populations are usually pregnant females. Asian black bears are known to experience delayed implantation. Sows give birth in hollow trees or caves in early spring or winter after a gestation period of 200 to 240 days.

Cubs weigh at least 13 ounces at birth, and will begin walking at 4 days of age, and open their eyes 3 days later. Litters consist of 1 to 4 cubs, but averagely 2.

Asian black bear cubs will be nursed for 104 to 130 weeks, and become independent at 24 to 36 months. There is usually a 2 to 3 years interval period before a female produces subsequent litters.

The average lifespan of an Asian black bear in the wild is 25 years. The oldest known Asian black bear in captivity died at the age of 44.

Diet

Asian black bears are omnivorous animals that feed on beetle larvae, insects, termites, invertebrate, carrions, grubs, eggs, bees, mushrooms, garbage, fruits, grasses, seeds, nuts, herbs, honey, cherries, acorns, grains, and dogwood.

Asian black bears will eat acorns and pine nuts of the previous year in the April to May period. In times of scarcity, they find their way into river valleys to gain access to insect larvae and hazelnuts in rotting logs.

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From mid-May to late June, they will supplement their diet with fruit and green vegetation. Through July – September, they will climb trees to eat pine cones, bird cherries, grapes and vines.

Habitat and Distribution

Asian black bears occur from southeastern Iran eastward through Pakistan and Afghanistan, across the foothills of Myanmar and the Himalayas in India to mainland Southeast Asia.

Other population clusters exist in North Korea and the southern Russian Far East. It also occurs on Taiwan and Hainan and in Japan’s Honshu and Shikoku.

It typically inhabits mixed forests, deciduous forests, and thorn bush forests. During summer, it usually inhabits altitudes of around 11,480 ft (3,500 m) in the Himalayas but rarely above 12,000 ft (3,700 m).

In winter, it descends to altitudes below 4,920 ft (1,500 m).

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