Six of the Eight Bear Species at Risk of Extinction

MONTERREY, Mexico–Some of the world’s foremost bear experts have declared that six out of the world’s eight species of bears are threatened with extinction–but not the American Black Bear.

Among the eight species of bears, only the American Black Bear is secure throughout its range, which encompasses Canada, the United States and Mexico.

In a statement last week, as they wound up a meeting in Monterrey, the experts updated the status of the seven species of terrestrial bears.

Technically a marine mammal, the Polar Bear is distinct from the other seven terrestrial bears and has a different specialist group. In 2006, the Polar Bear was listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a global analysis of the conservation status of thousands of species, updated annually, with in depth analysis once every four years.

Bruce McLellan, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, said: “An enormous amount of effort and funding for conservation and management continue to be directed at bears in North America where their status is relatively favorable. It is unfortunate that so little is directed at bears in Asia and South America where the need is extreme. We are trying to change this situation but success is slow.”

At 900,000 strong, there are more than twice as many American Black Bears than all the other species of bears combined. They are legally hunted in most parts of their range.

The only bear presently classed as Endangered is the Giant Panda. That status remains unchanged despite enormous efforts in China directed towards its conservation, including the establishment of nearly 60 panda reserves, a ban on logging, and widespread reforestation programs, said the bear scientists.

Dave Garshelis, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, said, “Quite a bit is now known about the ecology of Giant Pandas and substantial work and expense has been aimed at trying to estimate total numbers of these animals. However, these estimates are imprecise and prone to significant error.”

“Even though some people have claimed that panda populations are on the rise, we still consider them Endangered because too much uncertainty exists to justify changing their status to Vulnerable,” he said. “It would be unwise to assume that in less than 10 years under the new habitat improvement policies in China that panda populations could have dramatically increased.”

The Vulnerable species include Asiatic Black Bears and Sloth Bears, both inhabitants of Asia, as well as Andean bears, also called Spectacled Bears, from the Andes Mountains of South America.

Sloth Bears live on the Indian subcontinent, where habitat loss has been severe although they have found sanctuary in reserves set up to protect tigers. The IUCN Bear Specialist Group said that this species might have disappeared entirely from Bangladesh during the past decade.

Brown Bears, the most widespread ursid, are not listed as threatened globally because large numbers still inhabit Russia, Canada, Alaska and some parts of Europe.

Still, very small, isolated, and highly vulnerable populations exist in southern Europe and central and southern Asia.

Several Brown Bear populations are protected under national or provincial laws. Grizzly Bears–Brown Bears living in interior North America–are considered Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act outside of Alaska.

The world’s smallest species of bear, the Sun Bear, Helarctos malayanus, has been newly classed as Vulnerable. The Sun Bear’s new status has been accepted for inclusion in the 2007 IUCN Red List.

The Sun Bear lives in mainland Southeast Asia, on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. It was previously listed as Data Deficient, meaning that not enough was known about the species to give it a status on the IUCN Red List. –ENS