Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Three Moon Bear cubs were found by scientists, probably orphaned because of the legal hunting of the bears in Russia. The adult bears' skins are sought for the attractive moon markings on their chests. Moon Bears, technically called Asiatic black bears, are considered to be a vulnerable species. They are protected throughout most of their natural habitat, but in Russia and Japan, hunting them is still legal. As National Geographic reports, "During traditional Russian bear hunts, hibernating bears are dragged from their dens and shot. If it’s a mother with cubs, the babies are often left to die."
The scientists are purposefully doing little more for the bears than give them food, for fear that they will learn to depend on and trust humans too much. The goal is to release the bear cubs back into the wild in a year or so, once they have regained their strength and have survived the winter.
Asiatic black bears are mostly herbivores, eating fruits, nuts, insects, and some smaller animals. As they climb trees, spending up to half of their time in them, the bears will bring twigs and leaves up with them, creating what appear as nests for the bears to sit in. Moon bears are associated with the mountain spirit in traditional Japanese culture, with many folklore and art pieces focused around the creatures. They are often used, unfortunately, in circus acts because of their curious nature and their intellect.
Even without the legal sport hunting of Russia and Japan, the threats to the bears still increases. In China and Southeast Asia, a large threat to the species is the bear bile trade, for use in traditional medicine. The bile is supposedly used to cure diseases. Some people have created "bear farms," capturing bears from the wild and keeping them to occasionally drain them of bile. Bear paws are also a delicacy in these countries, with demand rising as more Asian countries come into wealth. Conservationists are hoping that tougher laws against bear bile farms and against Moon Bear hunting in general will help keep the animal's population from dwindling further.