Of eight bear species in the world, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists six as vulnerable or endangered. The only exceptions are black and brown bears. Threats include habitat fragmentation, which prevents bears from traveling to find food and mates; the growth of cities and farms; logging, which destroys habitat; climate change and pollution. In Asia, they’re often hunted and poached for bile and paws, both valuable in traditional Chinese medicine.
South America’s only bear species, Andean bears, occupy a swath from Venezuela through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. They live in scrublands, grasslands and montane forests at elevations up to 15,500 feet. Because of the white or yellow circles around their eyes, they’re also known as spectacled bears. The IUCN lists them as vulnerable; location-specific threats include mining and oil drilling, which add toxins to soil and water. Scientists don't have solid estimates about Andean bear populations.
Asiatic Black Bears
Asiatic black bears live in forests from Iran to Southeast Asia, and north to Russia, North and South Korea, and Japan. The IUCN classifies these bears as vulnerable, with threats including capture for the pet trade and bear-baiting. Scientists don't have reliable numbers for how many Asiatic black bears remain. In Japan, though, populations are growing, as people abandon rural areas for cities and forests expand.
With an estimated 1,600 left in the wild, giant pandas, which live in the Sichuan Province in southwestern China, are the only bear species the IUCN classifies as endangered. The Chinese government has established more than 40 panda reserves, where logging is outlawed, and has encouraged bamboo planting, reforestation and tree farms.
Polar bears live in the arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States. Scientists estimate that the wild population numbers between 20,000 and 25,000 bears, but they’re threatened by climate change, specifically, higher temperatures that melt the ice floes where the bears hunt. The IUCN classifies polar bears as vulnerable.
Sloth bears are native to low-altitude grasslands and forests in India, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Scientists estimate that fewer than 10,000 of these bears remain in the wild, and the IUCN ranks them as vulnerable. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is implementing a species survival plan, which includes partnering with local people to conserve the bears and their habitat. In India, many sloth bears have moved into tiger reserves, where they’re protected from habitat loss.
Sun bears also live in southeast Asia, with a range extending from India and Bangladesh to China, Myanmar and Indonesia. They prefer tropical evergreen rain forests or seasonal forests with mixed vegetation, and usually remain at elevations below 7,000 feet. Scientists don’t know how many sun bears survive in the wild, but populations are decreasing, and the IUCN ranks these bears as vulnerable.
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