Most authorities recognize seven living bear species; all but the South American Spectacled Bear, which lives in the Andes from Venezuela south to Bolivia, are restricted to the Northern Hemisphere. The distribution ranges of two species, the Polar Bear and the Brown (or Grizzly) Bear, encircle the globe in arctic and sub-arctic, and temperate regions, respectively.
North America holds a fourth species, the American Black Bear, and Asia holds a further three, the Sloth Bear, Sun Bear and Asian or Himalayan Black Bear.
These last three species, and the Spectacled Bear, are each included in one of four separate genera; the remainder are all assigned to the genus Ursus, although some taxonomists place the Himalayan Black Bear in this genus.
THE HIMALAYAN BLACK BEAR
The generic name of the Asian or Himalayan Black Bear, Selenarctos thibetanus, is translated as “moon bear”, and refer to the characteristic pale yellow V-shaped mark, looking a bit like a sickle moon, which extends from the lower chest up toward each armpit.
This chest mark, which variously is white, creamy yellow or buff, and a reddish brown muzzle which is often pale on the chin, contrast with the rest of the body, which is typically glossy jet black, although it can be dark reddish brown in some individuals.
It is a medium-sized bear, the head and body being between 1.5 and 1.75 m, and the weight around 120 kg; females are typically a little smaller and lighter. Several subspecies have been described, based on regional variations in colour and size, but some of these have little real significance.
WIDELY DISTRIBUTED IN ASIA
The Himalayan Black Bear is very widespread in south and east Asia, far beyond the confines of the Himalayas. In the south, the species extends throughout the lower hills of the Himalayas and associated mountain ranges, in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma and Bhutan.
A SHY FOREST FRUGIVORE
The Himalayan Black Bear is primarily a forest species; it rarely ventures above the tree-line, and so in the Himalayas, occurs below some 3000 m, and rarely occurs in areas devoid of significant forest cover.
The bear takes shelter in a burrow dug with its own powerful forelimbs, or in a suitable crevice in tumbled rocks, or under tree roots. It does not always enter a prolonged phase of deep hibernation during winter, but may emerge to forage from time to time, especially if food is abundant, and some individuals may move to lower elevations.
Mating may vary in timing across the large range; in Pakistan, it is believed to occur in October and the cubs, tiny and blind, usually two in number, are born early in the next year while the female is shelter-ing in her winter quarters, Most foraging is done at night, and the bear rests during the day; the species may be more day-active in areas without human disturbance, but does not completely avoid the vicinity of man; in fact, crops cultivated around hill villages can be an important source of food for bears.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS CAN BE DANGEROUS
Although most Himalayan Black Bears kill and consume nothing larger than ants and insect larvae throughout their life, some individuals appear to develop a talent for killing larger animals, such as sheep and goats, and all are treated with great respect by humans who share their environment. In the foothills of the Himalayas, they are more feared than Tigers Panthera Tigris, and probably inflict many more injuries upon people.
BLACK BEARS IN PAKISTAN
Two of the numerous described subspecies occur in Pakistan the Himalayan form Selenarctos thibetanus laniger and the Baluchistan Black Bear S.t gedrosianus. The former is found in the northern areas, notably Swat Kohistan, also Baltistan, Hazara, Gilgit and Chitral, where the preferred habitat is Himalayan moist temperate forest.
The range of the species probably used to extend continuously southward from the northern mountains, through the North-west Frontier Province and the Suleiman Range; into Baluchistan Province, and on westward into the Iranian Baluchistan. Both the northern and Baluchistan bear populations are suffering the effects of persecution and habitat disturbance, but the former is the more acutely threatened.
DEPLETED BY HUNTING AND HABITAT LOSS
Suitable habitat for the bear has diminished in much of its world range; significant Black Bear populations may survive mainly in more remote and thickly-forested hill regions, and such areas now form a relatively small part of the species’ world range.
Deliberate persecution for sport, medicinal purposes or for reputed pest control, has certainly affected Black Bear numbers in parts of the range and the apparent upsurge in demand for bear products in certain traditional medicinal systems in China, Japan and South Korea is a very serious threat.
International trade in this species and its products is prohibited between countries party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) .
The highly threatened Balochistan Black Bear is protected by legislation in Balochistan Province, Pakistan, and hunting of Black Bears in the other Provinces is subject to game controls. Overall, the status of the Himalayan or Asian Black Bear is poorly known, and this neglected species requires much attention.
Courtesy WWF International.
Pakistan Post Office also wishes to acknowledge with thanks the WWF International for permission to reproduce WWF Logo on the ‘Himalayan Black Bear’ stamps.
To focus world attention on the need to protect and preserve this vulnerable wildlife species, Pakistan Post Office is issuing a set of four special postage stamps of Rs 4 each (depicting the Himalayan Black Bear) on October 7, 1989. It is a part of the series on wildlife stamps being issued by Pakistan Post Office since 1975.