Six of the eight species of bears are endangered or vulnerable and their numbers are in decline. Bears are confronted with a wide variety of threats, including habitat loss, climate change, and hunting.
Status of Feature Species
Reasons Why Bears Are Endangered
Loss of Habitat:
Decreasing habitat is a problem for all eight species of bears. Increasing areas of land for agriculture is a major problem for several species, including the Malayan sun bear, which is losing its territory for oil palm plantations.
Logging is also a major threat for giant pandas, sun bears, sloth bears, and Himalayan black bears. Other ways their habitat is being lost includes roads, mining, human caused fires, and tree plantations.
Bear parts including gall bladders and bile are used in traditional Asian medicine, resulting in a large international trade, some of which is illegal under CITES - the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.
Some bears are hunted for food including polar bears and paws are eaten in some Asian countries. Their paws and fur are sought after as trophies in some places and the fur is also used to make rugs.
While polar bears have become a poster species for how climate change is affecting wildlife behavior, other species are also feeling the effects. Pine nuts, one of the primary foods for grizzlies in Yellowstone, have been affected by bark beetle infestations.
These beetles have moved north into grizzly territory as the climate warms. Scientists are now predicting that there will be no summer Arctic ice within 100 years. The ice is critical for polar bears to hunt and reach their dens.
Bear hunting is a legal and controlled activity in many places, though some populations are threatened by this activity where there is little information on the animals or quotas to ensure a sustainable population.
As bear habitat decreases, the animals are increasingly forced into human settlements to look for food in places like trash dumps, garbage cans, and agricultural crops.
While these creatures are not normally aggressive, the more they interact with people, the higher the likelihood of attacks on humans. When people are attacked, the offending bear is often shot and killed.
Polar bears are especially threatened by attempts to increase oil exploration in Alaska. While oil spills would be an obvious danger to these animals, drilling can also affect mating patterns through noise pollution and habitat destruction.
As apex predators, toxic chemicals can build up in the prey of polar bears. These chemicals, especially organochlorine that is present in many pesticides, can depress their immune system.
Endangered: Species is considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
Vulnerable: Species is considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
Least Concern: Species that do not qualify for the other categories.
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