Eight bear species and a number of their subspecies can be found around the globe. The interesting fact about bears is that they come in different sizes and colors. The smallest bear being the sun bear or the ‘honey bear’ found in Southeast Asia and the largest is the polar bear. Polar bears can be up to 3 meters tall and can weigh up to 1500 pounds whereas the sun bear stands only about 5 feet (1.52 meters) tall and weighs around 70-150 pounds.
Bears usually live a solitary life except for the mothers and the cubs till the young ones are independent enough to fend for themselves. All bears have some common features including their thick fur, a strong sense of smell, non-retractable claws, and short tails. Bears can live up to 30-50 years, depending on their habitat.
Some bears that are popularly believed to be bears like the koala bear, water bear, or the red panda, are not true bears. Let us look at six rare bear species from around the world.
Pandas are adorable! These bears found in the temperate mountainous forest regions of southwest China where look different from any other bear with their back and white fur. Their main diet consists of about 30-85 pounds of bamboo each day. As adults, males grow up to 300 pounds and females up to 200 pounds. Their weight does not stop them from being excellent climbers. The giant panda is an endangered species with about 2000 remaining in the wild. It is difficult to revive the panda due to their lack of interest in reproduction and a limited variety of diet. They have a functional ‘pseudo-thumb’ that helps them to get a good grip on bamboo stalks and maneuver them easily while eating.
Its major food bamboo is low on nutritional value and that makes these bears easily tired and exhausted. They avoid much movement, climbing, and take rest whenever possible. Even being so dissimilar to all other bears, pandas are ‘true bears’.
Polar bears are different from all the other bears as they spend a considerable amount of time in the sea. Some consider them to be marine mammals rather than a terrestrial animal. Polar bears are the largest bears on the earth. A male polar bear can weigh up to 1,700 pounds but the females are considerably smaller and weigh approximately 1,000 pounds.
Polar bears live mostly inside the Arctic Circle, in the surrounding areas of the Arctic Ocean and the landmasses around it. They are top of the food-chain predators and are carnivorous. These huge bears hunt for seals and walruses with agile movements from ice floats and also eat carcasses of whales. With feet that are somewhat webbed and strong front limbs polar bears are excellent swimmers. Polar bears travel hundreds of miles in the water swimming and floating on sheets of ice.
They have an excellent sense of smell and can track seals buried under the snow from many miles away. Also known as the ‘ice-bear’ in Norway, they are called Isbjørn. Although polar bears have white fur to camouflage in their icy surrounding, their skin is black. That allows them to soak up the warm sun rays in the freezing environment.
Polar bears are aggressive and do not fear humans. Looking elegant and charismatic in their white fur, they are the masters of their territory and have no enemies to challenge them in their natural habitat.
North American Black Bear
The American black bear is omnivores and lives in mountainous regions and swamps of North America. Although the most common color of these bears is black, but they are also found in shades of black-gray, blue-black, dark brown and rarely in white. These solitary animals are excellent at climbing trees and roam around in their wide-ranging territories. During the summer they eat in large quantities and spend the winter hibernating in their dens. When it is cold outside, they rarely eat and survive on their body fat.
The black bear prefers vegetarian food and mostly eats fruits, berries, shoots. Occasionally they eat small insects and catch fish from the streams. These bears find human food interesting and often get attracted to campsites, cottages, and rural homes close to their habitat. Being, excellent swimmers, they love splashing in water but are not avid hunters.
This bear species is considered to be the most agile and friendly bear compared to the other species. It may look extremely scary owing to its size but gets scared easily and tends to run away when surprised or scared.
Female bears of this species give birth to 2-3 cubs. Usually born in the middle of winter, the mother nurses the helpless cubs inside its den until its spring, and the bears can go out to search for food. The cubs continue to live with their mother for almost two years. Female black bears are extremely protective mothers and can be aggressive if they sense danger.
90 subspecies of the brown bears can be found in parts of Europe, America, and Asia. A subspecies of this bear species is called grizzly bear or the Alaskan Kodiak bear in North America. Their territories cover large areas of up to 500-600 square miles.
Like most bears, this species leads a solitary life except for the mother bear and the cubs. However, these bears gather in dozens at times and can be spotted at fishing spots catching salmon when the fish swim upstream in summer for spawning.
Brown bears eat almost anything from fruits to shoots including big animals like moose to small creatures like rodents.
Don’t be fooled by the size of brown bears. Brown bears can weigh about 800 pounds. They are swift and can run up to a speed of 30 miles per hour. This species of bears are fierce fighters and would fight wolves in the forest rather than fleeing. Brown bears have an interesting way of communicating with other bears of its kind with scratches marked on trees, different sounds, and smells. These help them to established connections and acquaintances with others.
Included in the list of endangered animals, protection and strict laws has allowed these bears to increase in number. However, there are some subspecies of brown bear which are considered vulnerable. The brown bear can live from 20-30 years in the wild and more in captivity.
The fur of grizzly bears can be in shades of dark brown to gray. A special feature that makes them easily recognizable is their hump. This species of bear can be found all across the western USA, including Missouri, Alberta, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, parts of British Columbia, also in parts of northern Canada.
Asiatic Black Bear
Also known as the moon bear, the Asian black bear is recognizable from the white crest on its chest. This species of bear is medium in size and is native to Asia. The Asian bear is dangerous and widely unpredictable, unlike the docile American black bear. Also called the crescent bear, this species extends its territory to parts of Europe and the whole of Asia including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sikkim, Bhutan, Burma, Taiwan, China, Japan, and southeast Russia. Being extremely aggressive, these bears often attack even tigers.
An interesting fact about this bear is it can walk long distances on its hind legs. Mountainous regions and dense forests are their favorite living grounds. Their food includes fruits, insects, honey and bee nests, insects, small animals, and carrion. This species of bear is considered vulnerable.
In hotter climates, these bears do not hibernate during winter and remain active all through the year. The adult male bear can weigh up to 440 pounds and the female up to 275 pounds.
Sloth bears are native to the Indian subcontinent. The furry, highly aggressive animals have floppy ears and look cute! They coexist with other bear species in the forests but are unpredictable. They are not very huge and prefer eating insects, honey, and fruits. Some of their favorites are jackfruit, mango, gig, ebony, and wood apple. Their love for eating termites and ants are well known. Baloo, the bear in Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” was a sloth bear.
They have a strong sense of smell that helps them to discover ant hills, flowers, and fruits in densely forested areas. These bears can weigh from 120-130 pounds and stand 5-6 feet tall. Equipped with long and curved claws, these bears dig out termites and ants from the ground easily and suck out insects from their nests. These bears live in tall grass lands, hilly retains, moist jungles where dense vegetation and big boulders provide them shelter.
Sloth bears are active in the night and make loud grunts and snorts while looking for food. Like most bears, they are lone wanderers. Loss of habitat and poaching has greatly reduced the number of sloth bears in the wild. It is estimated that around 20,000 or less sloth bears still survive in the wild.