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Are Bears Endangered? (2022 Status Update)

Are Bears Endangered

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that five out of the eight bear species worldwide are vulnerable to extinction. This includes spectacled bears, sun bears, sloth bears, polar bears, and giant pandas.

As of now, the declining bear species are classified as vulnerable. That means their populations have declined by fifty percent, and the cause of the decline is known. If the species decrease continues and reaches seventy percent – they will be endangered.

This article will focus on why certain bear species are dwindling and what conservationists are doing to protect them.

Related: 17 Endangered Animals in 2022

Which Bears are Endangered?

SpeciesIUCN Conservation StatusEstimated PopulationRangeThreats
Grizzly BearLeast Concern110,000North AmericaHunting, Deforestation
Black BearLeast Concern850,000-950,000North AmericaHunting, Deforestation
Giant PandaVulnerable1,800ChinaClimate Change, Low Birth Rates, Deforestation
Sun BearVulnerableUnknownSouth-East AsiaAgriculture, mining, hunting, roads
Sloth BearVulnerable10,000-20,000India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri LankaHuman development, agriculture, mining, roads
Spectacled BearVulnerable2,500-10,000South AmericaDeforestation, infrastructure development, mining
Polar BearVulnerable  Climate Change

According to the IUCN, all bear species except the Brown bear and American black bear are vulnerable or close to being endangered. Below are the details on each bear species and their official conservation status.

1. Spectacled Bears (Vulnerable)

spectacled bear
Scientific NameTremarctos ornatus
IUCN Conservation StatusVulnerable
Population Estimate2,500-10,000
RangeSouth America
ThreatsDeforestation, infrastructure development, mining

Spectacled bears are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Endangered Animals List. Their population is decreasing with about 2,500-10,000 spectacled bears left in South America.

Spectacled bears are native to countries like Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Northern Argentina. These bears are omnivores and survive mainly on a diet that consists of fruits, plants, insects, and small rodents.

Spectacled bears inhabit grasslands, shrublands, and forests, which is why it’s not surprising that one of the biggest threats to the survival of this species is the loss and fragmentation of their natural habitat.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states that some of the main threats to the Spectacled Bear species include timber extraction, unchecked infrastructure development, mining, and petroleum exploitation.

2. Sun Bears (Vulnerable)

Sun Bear
Scientific NameHelarctos malayanus
IUCN Conservation StatusVulnerable
Population EstimateNot available
RangeSouth-East Asia
ThreatsAgriculture, mining, hunting, roads

Sun bears are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Endangered Animals List. Their population is believed to be decreasing based on population density studies, but there is no reliable survey of their total remaining population.

Sun Bears are native to Southeast Asia and countries like Malaysia and Thailand. These bears frequent tropical forests, swamp habitats, and their diet consists of insects, small rodents, and sweet fruits.

Apart from habitat destruction, Sun bears face dwindling numbers due to being poached for their organs – which some believe hold medicinal value.

However, the claim that they have medicinal value has been denied and proven wrong by many scientists the world over. Sadly, that hasn’t stopped this species from being hunted.

3. Grizzly Bears (Least Concern)

grizzly bear
Scientific NameUrsus arctos
IUCN Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Population Estimate110,000
RangeNorth America, Europe, Asia
ThreatsResidential development, agriculture, mining, transport corridors, climate change, hunting

Grizzly bears are listed as least concern by the IUCN endangered species list.

The species’ population dropped significantly after European encroachment in North America. They are no longer found in many states, including California, where there was once a large population.

The main reasons for a historical decline in Grizzly bear numbers are poaching and human-animal conflicts, human encroachment, and habitat destruction.

The species are protected against harm under the Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) monitors the species’ numbers of the six recovery ecosystems created for Grizzly bears. These include the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Selkirk Ecosystem, etc.

According to a 5-year study carried out by the USFW, there’s not enough significant increase in the Grizzly bear population in North America, meaning more work is needed.

There are also small isolated populations of brown bears in parts of Europe and Asia.

4. Giant Pandas (Vulnerable)

panda bear
Scientific NameUrsus arctos
IUCN Conservation StatusVulnerable
Population Estimate1,800
RangeChina
ThreatsDeforestation, Poaching, Climate Change

Panda bears are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN endangered species list. While they are not listed as endangered (due to a rise in population and re-introduction to several habitats in China), their overall population is still dangerously low.

Panda bears are native to China and are considered one of the country’s national treasures. Pandas were listed as endangered by the IUCN until recently. But, in September of 2021, IUCN upgraded their status to vulnerable.

That means the efforts being taken to rebound the Panda population are working – to the delight of conservationists everywhere.

However, the WWF states that Pandas still need to be protected from habitat destruction and poaching to ensure their numbers don’t decrease again.

Climate change may also be a threat to their population. As temperatures rise, the bamboo forests that they rely on may disappear or retreat further into the mountains.

5. Black Bears (Least Concern)

black bear
Scientific NameUrsus americanus
IUCN Conservation StatusLeast Concern
Population Estimate850,000–950,000
RangeNorth America
ThreatsHunting, Agriculture, Transport Corridors

Black bears are not endangered. They are listed as least concern by the IUCN endangered species list.

However, their population almost certainly has declined since European development in North America. They have been extirpated from central and southern United States (e.g. Texas) since European encroachment.

Conflict with humans, hunting, and human encroachment on their habitats remain significant threats.

Humans can help protect black bears by ensuring they don’t attract them to their homes or campsites. Locking food in bear bins, keeping your yard clean and clear, and never feeding bears can ensure they move along and don’t stay in the same area.

Unfortunately, if a bear persistently returns to a campsite or home, it may be euthanized to prevent human-bear conflict.

6. Sloth Bears (Vulnerable)

sloth bear
Scientific NameMelursus ursinus
IUCN Conservation StatusVulnerable
Population Estimate10,000-20,000
RangeIndia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka
ThreatsHuman development, agriculture, mining, roads

Sloth bears are not considered endangered but they are listed as vulnerable and their population is declining.

They are locally extinct in Bangladesh and their population is declining throughout India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Unfortunately they’re known to raid crops and attack humans, which can lead farmers to poach them.

The best way to conserve sloth bears going forward is to ensure they have protected habitats. If they can live in remote protected regions, human-bear conflicts should go into decline.

7. Polar Bears (Vulnerable)

polar bears
Scientific NameUrsus maritimus
IUCN Conservation StatusVulnerable
Population Estimate26,000
RangeArctic Circle
ThreatsClimate Change

Polar bears are not considered endangered but they are listed as vulnerable.

The greatest threat to the polar bear is climate change. As the climate heats up, ice caps are melting, and bears are struggling to catch seals at the same rate as previously.

This has had many flow-on effects, including increased interactions with humans, and changes in the Polar Bear’s diet.

In recent years, they have taken to raiding the nests of arctic terns, causing devastation to the arctic tern population in several regions.

This shows how climate change can cause a domino effect that can cause devastation not only to bears but the whole ecosystem.

What are the Major Threats to Bears?

There are several reasons why bears are being pushed towards being endangered. But it all seems to be connected to one primary cause – humans.

The United States Endangered Species Act 1973 lists out that wildlife species are at risk of extinction due to unchecked economic growth and activity – without sufficient conservation. And that pretty much sums up why bear populations are reducing the world over.

Below are some of the secondary concerns of excessive economic activity that are adding to the bear problem.

1. Loss of Natural Habitat

Human-activity-related problems like agricultural spread, deforestation, dams, and other sources of water management are destroying the natural habitat of bear species the world over.

The loss of habitat can affect species decline in several ways. For instance, it can affect animals’ food sources, forcing them to find alternative and less suitable means of sustenance. It also increases the chances of conflict between humans and bears, putting the species at risk.

2. Low Birth Rates

panda bear
Image: Giant pandas are known for their low birth rate

Bears have very low birth rates which makes it hard for their populations to recover after a decline. In fact, Giant Pandas rarely reproduce in captivity, which makes it hard to regenerate their population.

Generally, bears reach the age of maturity between three to five years. And even then, a female bear will only give birth every two to four years. If one compares that to standard bear lifespan in the wild – which is 25 years, their reproduction rate is very low.

Reproduction among bear species can get even trickier because reproduction ages and rates can vary within members of the Ursidae family.

The pressure on the bear species brought about by the loss of habitat, pollution, depletion of food sources, human-animal conflict, etc., can affect the already slow rate of reproduction in bears.

Additionally, the loss of life among the species (for various reasons) unbalances the mortality and birth ratios, meaning the species aren’t growing as fast as they’re dying out.

3. Pollution

Another significant factor affecting the bear species decline is pollution. For example, polar bears survive on a diet of seals and fish, which are increasingly polluted.

Aquatic creatures in the Arctic contain high levels of toxic chemicals because the Arctic basin acts as a type of reservoir for agricultural and industrial chemicals from Europe and other parts of the world.

When Polar bears consume these animals, the toxins enter their bodies, causing problems like low levels of vitamins, antibodies, and even thyroid hormones.

In short, consuming tainted food affects Polar bears in multiple ways – including reduced immunity, stunted growth, and reproduction. Other species of bears are affected in similar ways, but the results are often the same.

Conclusion

All members of the Ursidae family are essential parts of our natural ecological system. Six of eight bears species around the world are inching towards extinction due to the unchecked growth of human activities. The endangered bear species include Polar bears, Panda bears, Asiatic black bears, Sun bears, Spectacled Bears, and Sloth bears. If a joint conservation effort isn’t initiated, conservationists are concerned the situation could grow worse.

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