Giant panda

Ailuropoda melanoleuca




Ailuropoda melanoleuca (David, 1869), "Mou-pin." OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Cat bear, black and white bear; French: Le grand panda; German: Großer Panda; Spanish: Oso panda.

Red Panda Overproduction


Particularly important to the tourism industry. Panda bears are a major attraction in zoos, and a symbol of species conservation efforts. ♦


Striking black-and-white bear with black fur around the eyes, on the ears, on all four legs, and across the back from shoulder to shoulder. Sometimes the black fur is replaced with reddish black or brownish fur. Unusually, it has six digits on each front foot, with the sixth digit actually an extension of the sesamoid bone and serving as an opposable thumb, thus giving the panda additional dexterity. This stocky bear reaches about 5.5-6 ft (1.7-1.8 m) in body length and weighs about 175-280 lb (80-125 kg), with the females about 10-15 percent lighter than the males.


Narrowly distributed in small parts of the Tibetan plateau in southwestern China.


Bamboo jungles 4,000-12,000 ft (1,200-3,600 m) above sea level. BEHAVIOR

These are mainly solitary animals, except for female-and-cub groupings. Males and females have home ranges. A male's range excludes other males, but may overlap with the range(s) of one or more females. Territories are maintained by scent markings on trees or other surfaces, and by tree scratches. Males and females vocalize, with females doing most of their sound-making during the breeding season. Males may compete for females.


Primarily eat bamboo, including the leaves, stems, and shoots. They are the most vegetarian of the bears, eating little other than bamboo. They have flattened molars and a specialized digestive system to handle the tough plant material.


Polygynous and promiscuous. Mating occurs in spring, with litters of one to three cubs born in late summer to early fall. Despite the size of the litter, the mother commonly only rears one of her cubs. The cub weans at about nine months, and stays with their mother for about one-and-a-half years. Sexual maturity is attained at about 5-7 years of age, although competition for females may prevent a younger male from breeding that early.


Listed as Endangered by the IUCN.

Polar bear

Ursus maritimus




Ursus maritimus Phipps, 1774, Norway. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Sea bear; French: L'ours blanc, l'ours polaire; German: Eisbär; Spanish: Oso polar.


A large, white to yellowish bear with a black nose, small eyes, fairly small ears, and a neck that is long compared to other bears. Under the "white" fur (actually made up of clear, hollow hairs), it has black skin. A marine animal, polar bears also have webbed front paws to aid in swimming. The largest of the terrestrial carnivores, male polar bears can reach 8-9 ft (2.4-2.7 m) in body length, 4 ft (1.2 m) at the shoulder, and more than 10 ft (3 m) when standing on their hind legs. Males commonly weigh 900-1,300 lb (400-590 kg), although very large males have been recorded that weighed in excess of 2,000 lb. (907 kg) and stood more than 12 ft (3.6 m). The average female body length ranges from about 6-7 ft (1.8-2.1 m), and they weigh 450-600 lb (200-270 kg).


Circumpolar distribution, ranging to the edge of the Arctic Ocean ice pack. They are found well into northern Canada, Europe and Asia in warmer months, and as far south as Newfoundland, Canada, and the northern Bering Sea in the winter.


Arctic snow and ice fields, with southern populations sometimes summering on land. Because they spend a considerable time on the ice pack or in the water, they are sometimes considered a marine mammal.


Not territorial animals, polar bears normally live alone on large home ranges. Females and cubs are the only social unit. Males

compete for receptive females during mating season. Pregnant females spend much of the winter in dens burrowed in the permafrost, but other polar bears generally do not enter winter dormancy, instead remaining active all year. Some of the females' dens go back many years, with the successive generations clawing farther down to make ever-deepening caverns.


Typically designated as carnivores because the vast majority of their diet is meat, particularly seals and fish. Ambush is a favored hunting method, with the polar bears waiting at holes in the ice for a seal to surface, then delivering a fatal blow with their clawed paws. The bears will also occasionally attack and eat other marine animals, including walruses and even beluga whales. During the summer, polar bears will subsist on berries, grasses and other vegetation, and carrion.


Polygamous. Mating occurs in the spring, with implantation of the embryo following in late fall. Females typically have two cubs, although a litter may range from one to three, rarely four. Births occur in early winter. The cubs stay with their mother for at least two-and-a-half years, at which point she may breed again. Sexual maturity is attained at 3-6 years of age.


Listed as Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent by the IUCN, although some scientists believe they could face extinction within the century if global warming continues to melt arctic ice.


Now protected, they were once widely hunted for their fur, meat, and trophy value. Polar bears can be aggressive, and have been known to attack humans, although this is very rare. ♦

Spectacled bear

Tremarctos ornatus




Tremarctos ornatus (F. G. Cuvier, 1825), Chile. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: L'ours à lunettes; German: Brillenbär; Spanish: Oso de anteojos, oso frontino o andino.


A smaller, black, brown or slightly reddish bear with whitish fur "spectacles" completely or partially encircling the eyes. Small, whitish stripes and patches typically run along on the sides of the face, the neck and chest. Body length is about 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m), with males weighing 220-340 lb (100-150 kg) and females 140-180 lb (65-80 kg).


South America, including parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.


Variable, but commonly in thick, lush forests of mountainous areas ranging from 6,000-9,000 ft (1,800-2,750 m). Also found as low as 600 ft (180 m) and as high as 14,000 ft (4,300 m), and in drier, open areas.


Active at dawn, dusk, and through the night, these bears spend much of their time on platforms, which they build of broken branches in trees, typically among fruiting branches. Between naps on the platform, they spend their time harvesting and eating the fruit. During mating season, males and females come together for one or two weeks, beginning by mock fighting apparently to stimulate the female for mating, and then copulating multiple times. Some communicative vocalizations have been documented between captive mothers and cubs.


These omnivorous bears prefer fruits and various parts of bromeliads, but also will eat orchid bulbs, grasses, small mammals, and birds.


Monogamous. Mating occurs from spring to early summer, followed by delayed implantation, then birth in late fall to mid-winter with one to three cubs, although three is rare. The cubs remain with the mother, often riding on her back as she moves through the forest. Spectacled bears become sexually mature at about 4-7 years of age.


Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.


Hunted for meat and fur, also for their fat, which is used for medicinal purposes. Due to their large fruit diet, spectacled bears are also important seed dispersers. Farmers and ranchers sometimes view the bears as a threat to their crops and livestock. ♦

Common name / Scientific name/ Other common names

Physical characteristics

Habitat and behavior



Conservation status

Malayan sun bear Helarctos malayanus Spanish: Oso malayo

Sloth bear Melursus ursinus Spanish: Oso labiado

Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus Spanish: Oso negro asiático

Short, sleek black fur covers body. White colored crescent shape on chest, muzzle, and eyes. Muzzle is short, ears are small and very round. Large paws with naked soles, claws are long, curved, and very pointed. Body length 48-60 in (122— 152 cm), weight 60—145 lb (27—66 kg).

Coat is black, shaggy, with gray and brown mixed in. Chest, muzzle, and eye area is white or cream colored. Body length 60—75 in (122—191 cm), weight 175—310 lb (79—41 kg).

Mainly black coloration with light muzzle and ears. Distinct white patch on chest and on chin. Brown color phase does occur. Total length 51-75 in (130— 190 cm), weight for adult male 220— 440 lb (100—200 kg), adult female 110—275 lb (50—125 kg).

Prefers lowland tropical rainforests. They are quite arboreal and are believed to sleep in trees. Cubs can be born throughout the year.

Prefers grasslands and forested area at predominantly lower altitudes. They are more often found in drier forests and areas with rock outcroppings. Live mainly as solitary individuals, except when mother is with cubs. Cubs stay with mothers for 2 to 3 years.

Can be found predominantly in forested areas, especially in hills and mountainous areas. In summer, they can be found mainly at altitudes over 9,840 ft (3,000 m), descending to lower elevations during winter. Mainly nocturnal.

Myanmar, China (Yunnan and Szechwan), India, Indonesia (Sumatra, Borneo), Laos, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Sri Lanka; India, north to the Indian desert and to the foothills of the Himalayas.

Consists of birds, small mammals, termites, the young tips of palm trees, and the nests of wild bees.

Mainly termites, as well as fruit and other plant matter, eggs, insects, honeycomb, and carrion.

Data Deficient


Afghanistan, China, India, Indochina, Japan, Korea, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Taiwan, Thailand, Russia (southeast Primorski Krai), and Vietnam.

Consists of fruits, bees' nests, insects, invertebrates, small vertebrates, and carrion.




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Leslie Ann Mertz, PhD

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