The Asian Black Bear, ursus tibethanus (the bear of tibet), is found all over the Himalayas as well as the forest and upper reaches of all the land masses that constitute East and South-East Asia. This species is most closely related to the American black Bears, diverging about 3 million years ago. The Asiatic black is also related to the Sloth Bear and the Sun Bear. Some place the divergence as close as 2.5 million years ago.
There are seven subspecies and they vary quite a lot all across the known territory. Mostly, it is to do with the fur or lack thereof depending on the terrain that they live in.
Formosan black Bears (ursus tibethanus formosanus)
This subspecies is found on the island of Taiwan and is considered the keystone species for the island. It is also called the white-throated bear and also the dog bear because it’s snout is quite pronounced. This subspecies has lighter neck fur compared to others of it’s ilk. It lives in the highlands of Taiwan and feeds on vegetation although it can indulge in carrion, insects and small animals when the opportunity allows. It also doesn’t hibernate in the winters, instead preferring to go down to lower slopes looking for food. It is endangered in Taiwan and is less aggressive towards humans than other subspecies.
Baluchistan Bear (ursus tibethanus gedrosianus)
The Baluchistan bear is also called the Pakistan black bear and is found in the Baluchistan Mountains of southern Pakistan and Iran. It has a much lighter coat than the Himalayan subspecies because it lives in a much warmer climate. It also likes fruit more, particularly the nourishment rich figs and bananas.
Japanese black Bear (ursus tibethanus japonicus)
This subspecies called the Japanese Bear mainly lived on the islands Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Now we have consensus that the Shikoku and Kyushu populations have gone extinct due to hunting and population pressures. Their body parts carry a high price in the local black markets and so this subspecies has only 10,000 individuals that remain in Honshu. It is generally considered to be the smallest subspecies of bear.
Himalayan black Bear (ursus tibethanus laniger)
This subspecies is the second largest of them all and lives in the Indian Himalayas. They are known to forage up to 13,000 feet during the summer and come down to 5,000 feet during the winter and they also hibernate. This bear is known to be very aggressive towards humans and even other animals. There are reports of Bears driving a tiger away from it’s kill. They are not mainly carnivorous though and a majority of the diet consists of vegetation. They can grow as large as 400 lbs.
Indochinese black Bear (ursus tibethanus mupinensis)
This bear resembles the Himalayan Black Bear but is slightly smaller in size. It also lives in the high elevations of indo-China.
Tibetan Black Bear (ursus tibethanus tibethanus )
This species is mostly found in Far Eastern India, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand. It has a much thinner coat than the Himalayan Black bear and also has little woolly underfur as most of it’s habitat is rather warm. The steamy jungles of Southeast asia are not a place to wear a sweater.
Ussuri Black Bear (ursus tibethanus ussuricus)
This black bear is the largest of them all and is also called the Manchurian Black Bear. This subspecies is found in the caspian regions, Northern China and as far east as Korea.
These bears have varied diets because they live in very different habitats. The area of their habitation is shown below
Such a large and diffuse population eats everything under the sun. They mostly rely on vegetation but are known to eat insects fruits, acorns and small mammals. Some of them are more carnivorous and will eat larger creatures too. They live in typically mountainous terrain and so when food becomes scarce, they will hibernate for at least part of the winter.
The Asiatic Black Bear is known to have two to three young in a litter after a pregnancy of 200-240 days. The young are slow growers are only become independent about three years after birth. That is also about the age that female is ready to mate.
The future for this animal is quite bright where there is strict enforcement of conservation efforts. Unfortunately, traditional asian medicine prizes the liver of the bear for various type of medicine and that makes it vulnerable in various parts of its range. However, the situation is getting better throughout its terrain with lots of effort being put in by conservation organizations like WWF and we hope that this animal is soon declared as “least concern” by the Redlist.