• ABOUT MOON BEARS

    Asiatic black bears are known as moon bears because of the crescent of pale fur on their chests. Every moon bear’s chest markings are different in colour and shape – from pale cream to deep orange-gold, from deep Vs to delicate crescents. Some are even speckled.

  • ABOUT MOON BEARS

    The moon bear’s thick coat can be shaggy or flat, and is black or dark brown and forms a ruff around the neck. The female’s ruff is usually thicker. Moon bears also have distinctive large, round ears.

  • ABOUT MOON BEARS

    Despite their size and weight – moon bears are typically four to six feet tall, and males can weigh 140–200kg and females 60–130kg in the wild – moon bears are excellent climbers, using their strong claws to help them clamber up trees or onto structures.

  • ABOUT MOON BEARS

    Moon bears and Malayan sun bears are the only bears known to construct feeding platforms in trees.

  • ABOUT MOON BEARS

    Moon bears love water. Our rescued bears enjoy playing in the specially created rock pools in their enclosures – relaxing, swimming, or just splashing around with their friends.

  • ABOUT MOON BEARS

    Bears love foraging for food – and they really do love honey. Their sense of smell is so refined that they can smell honey and other favourite treats from great distances away.

Moon bears – or Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) – are found in mountainous and heavily forested areas across the Asian continent. Although their habitat ranges from Iran to Japan, the majority of moon bears are found in China, with concentrations in the north-eastern and south-western provinces – which are also the main bear farming areas.

A 2009 report on bear populations in Sichuan province undertaken by an international research team and co-sponsored by Animals Asia indicated that conservation areas set up to protect the giant panda were also favourable for the survival of moon bears. However, poaching remains a major concern.

Peter Egan at Animals Asia's bear sanctuary in Chengdu, China

Peter Egan at Animals Asia's bear sanctuary in Chengdu, China

The main threats to the long-term survival of moon bears are habitat loss and fragmentation – which results in isolated populations more vulnerable to extinction – and the increase in poaching and hunting caused by the commercialisation of bear parts and bile for traditional medicine. Leading conservationists believe that bear bile farming is having a negative impact on the Asiatic black bear population, with many farmed bears found to be missing limbs – like three-legged Andrew, the first bear to arrive at our Chengdu sanctuary – probably as a result of having been illegally caught in the wild.

Moon bears are classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – the most critical category of endangerment – which means that no international trade in live moon bears or moon bear parts is allowed (except under very special circumstances). This regulation is regularly flouted in a number of countries.

Although precise figures for the number of moon bears surviving in the wild are unavailable, populations in most areas are believed to be declining. Unsubstantiated estimates for the number of wild moon bears in China vary between 15,000 and 46,000.

Between 2005 and 2009, in light of the severe shortage of high-quality scientific data about wild bear populations in Asia, Animals Asia co-sponsored a comprehensive bear population density survey in Sichuan Province.

The Asiatic black bear is the species most affected by the demand for bile and the one most exploited for traditional Asian medicine, in part because the species was once so abundant in the region.

Moon bears, Malayan sun bears, brown bears, American black bears, sloth bears, spectacled bears and polar bears have all been used in the medicine trade. All except the panda have seen their numbers impacted because of this.

The moon bears’ natural ability to stand on their hind legs is often cruelly exploited for entertainment, such as dancing bears in India, fighting bears in Pakistan and circus bears in Vietnam, China and other parts of Asia.

Diet

Although classed as carnivores, bears are opportunists when it comes to food and generally omnivorous. Moon bears are omnivorous but prefer a vegetarian diet – mainly nuts in the autumn and fruit, leaves, berries, shoots and roots at other times – although they will eat carrion and hunt occasionally.

The bears at our sanctuaries are fed fruit, vegetables, nuts and dog biscuits. “Enrichment food” such as yoghurt, jam, honey and fermented tofu is also spread around the enclosures as “smears” to encourage the bears’ foraging instincts and to keep them busy and stimulated throughout the day – something that also helps prevent dominant and negative behaviour.

Character

Moon bears are crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) and love to sleep in trees or make dens in hollow logs and caves. In winter they are generally less active than in summer. Bears that live in cooler or more mountainous regions tend to hibernate between November and April, although some also migrate to warmer lowlands.

In the wild, adult moon bears are generally solitary animals with home territories of around 4–8 miles. In our sanctuaries, where there is no competition for food, most of the bears adapt easily to living in fairly large social groups, although some prefer to keep their own company. All of our bears display distinct individual characteristics and traits and many show clear preference and affection for particular “best friends”.

Moon bears are highly intelligent and have an interesting range of vocalisations – making clucking or “tut-tut-tut” sounds when cautious, huffing when warning or about to attack, and screaming loudly when angry or fighting. Females are often more vocal than males.

Moon bears start to breed at around 3–4 years of age. They generally mate from April to June and give birth to single cubs or twins in April or May the following year. A process known as “delayed implantation” delays the development of fertilised eggs so that cubs are always born in the spring. This ensures that there is a ready supply of food for the mother, which is essential for milk production.

Although cubs are weaned by 4–6 months, they stay with their mothers for the first two years of their life. Rescued cubs that have been taken from their mother by poachers in the early weeks of their lives need lots of care and attention – such as round the clock feeding with an appropriate formula and the gradual introduction of solid foods.

Moon bears can survive for around 35 years in captivity and usually live for 25–30 years in the wild. Sadly, many of the rescued bears in our sanctuaries pass away due to health problems caused by the effects of long-term confinement in tiny cages and the surgical mutilation and bile extraction methods they suffer on the farms rather than old age.

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