Asiatic black bear: China's Bear Bile Farming

Species Profile: The Asian Black Bear

The Asian Black Bear is one of the most sought-after bear by poachers today.

Asian Black Bear
An Asian Black Bear: They Usually Stand On Their Hindlegs When They Feel Threatened. (Author: Guérin Nicolas cc by-s.a 3.0)

The Asian Black Bear is a medium to large-sized   mammal native to deciduous tropical forests in Asia.

This bear, also called the Asiatic black bear, has a strong and sturdy build with a large head and thick-set legs. Their legs allow them to stand for long periods of time so as to appear larger when they feel threatened.

You can easily identify them with their distinctive black fur (though sometimes brown or blonde).

There’s a distinctive whitish v-shaped marking on their chests and a band of longer fur around their necks. This longer fur almost looks like a mane and may be there to also make them look larger to potential predators.

Though this bear species has an extremely keen sense of smell, they suffer from poor eyesight and hearing.

These bears have adapted mostly to arboreal living (living in trees), and are closely related to the American Black Bear. However, unlike other black bears that are increasing in number, this particular bear is decreasing sharply in number.

The situation is so bad that it’s now considered an endangered species in many quarters. The problem is caused by a number of factors: loss of habitats to deforestation, the use of their body parts for alternative medicines and for so called “culinary delights.”

In fact, the Asian black bear is the most sought after of bears for Asian alternative medicine practitioners. Their gall bladder in particular is so valuable that there’s now a whole bear bile farming industry thriving around it.

Probably as a direct result of so much hunting, Asian black bears have become increasingly aggressive to humans.

It is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

1) Scientific Name

Ursus Tibetanus

2) Scientific Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Ursidae
  • Genus: Ursus
  • Species: Ursus Thibetanus

3) Life Expectancy

The Asian Black Bear lives, at an average, up to the age of 25 years in the wild. On the other hand, the oldest Asian black bear in captivity died at the age of 44 years.

4) Average/Maximum Length

This is a medium-sized bear. They are far smaller than the polar bears but just slightly smaller than American Black bears.

Comparatively, the adult females are smaller than the adult males.

An adult measures 120 to 190 cm (47 to 75 inches) in length.

5) Average/Maximum Weight

In general, the weight of a male Asian black bear ranges from 130 to 140 lbs. (60 to 200 kg) and that of a female ranges from 88 to 276 lbs. (40 to 125 kg).

The largest of this bear ever recorded weighed about 441 lbs. (200 kg).

6) Maximum Swimming/Running Speed

Black bears, though not exceptional swimmers, swim well enough when necessary.

Being fish lovers, they readily enter into water around them to fish. However, there are no reports of Asian black bears swimming for a long stretch.

Generally, black bears can run at a speed more than 30 mph (48 km/h) and are very good runners regardless of the terrain.

7) Interaction With/Danger To Humans

Under normal circumstance, these bears should hardly come in contact with humans because of their habitat. And contrary to the popular belief that black bears are dangerous, this species is highly unlikely to cause harm to humans.

However, humans enter their territory to hunt them. As a result, they can attack with grievous results. Especially mother bears with their cubs.

The Himalayan black bear in particular is known to attack humans habitually. This bear has been implicated in several attacks resulting in human fatalities. There are also a number of recent reports showing an increasing number of casualties resulting from encounters between man and Asian black bears in India, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

8) Reproduction Details

In the wild, these are solitary bears. But they will come together for mating from mid-June to mid-August. Gestation period is about 7 to 8 months after which a litter of cubs arrives in caves or hollow trees in the winter or early spring.

Each litter will have between one and four cubs with each cub measuring just 13 oz. at birth.

Cubs will remain with their mother for about two years after which they set out on their own.

9) Diet/Hunting Pattern Of The Asian Black Bear

The Asian black bears are omnivores and they are not adopted to their diet as Giant Pandas, for instance. They feed on a variety of food and do not require constant feeding.

Typically, they feed on nuts, acorns, fruit, insects, succulent greens and other food stuffs. But a long term of scarcity of food means failed reproduction and stunted growth of the bear. In such situations, they will eat even dead fish though it constitutes a very small fraction of their diet.

The diet of the black doesn’t remain same throughout the year: they’ll eat green vegetation and fruit from May to June, then cherries, vines and grapes from July to September.

Asian black bears hibernate and aim to store as much fat as possible before then.

Apart from humans, tigers are a major predator of the Asian black bear. Though once the bears reach about five years old, tigers tend to stay away from them.

10) Alternative Names

  • Moon Bear
  • White-Chested Bear
  • Asiatic Black Bear

11) Population and Conservation Status

The actual population of Asiatic black bear is not clear though there is an estimate of about 90,000 individuals.

The major threats to the Asian black bear has been the destruction of their habitat, especially in China. Also, poaching and bear bile farming remains a problem despite several interventions by this led to decreasing number of black bear’s population.

They are generally hunted for their gall bladder and other body parts.

It has been listed as a Vulnerable species by IUCN and as a protected species in most of the countries having high abundances of this animal.

12) Ancestry and History

Asian and American black bears are thought to be the closest related bears and they diverged around 3 million years ago. Asian black bears are the most unchanged species of the old world bears.

They are the symbols of the arboreal specialization attained by sloth and sun bears.

Because they are so morphologically similar to some prehistoric bears that some scientists believe they are the ancestors of other extant (surviving) bear species. Although, that excludes Giant Pandas and Spectacled bears.

 Some scientists believe that the Asian black bear is the ancestor of other extant (surviving) bear species.

13) Distribution And Habitat

The major countries you’ll find this bear include: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Russian Far East, China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Taiwan, and some in Japan.

They prefer to live in large forests with plenty of edible vegetation. Their terrain is at an elevation of 11,480 feet and rarely above 12,000 feet.

Asian black bears will descend down towards the lower altitudes during the winter but remain in the Himalayas for the whole summer.

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