There are eight distinct species of bear as well as numerous subspecies and hybrids also found in the natural world. Although bears are related to canines and felines, their closest relatives are actually pinnipeds or marine mammals. Belong to their own unique family entitled Ursidae, most bears are omnivores and dine on just about anything they can find.
American Black Bear:
The North American Black Bear is one of the most common bears in the world. These large omnivores are found through out the wilderness of North America from Mexico to Canada. They generally prefer the under stories of boreal and deciduous forests but can adapt to live just about anywhere including swamps, meadows and mountains. They feed on just about anything and as humans have taken up more and more of their habitats, they have become desperate for food, breaking into vehicles and even venturing into towns and neighborhoods, sacking garbage cans and dumpsters for a free meal whenever they can. Black Bears are the fourth largest species of bear, weighing in at up to five-hundred pounds and standing at nearly five feet tall; they are very agile, climbing trees with ease and reaching speeds of over 30 miles per hour.
Asiatic Black Bear:
The Asiatic Black Bear, like its American cousin, is found throughout the Asian Wilderness from Iran to China. They too are omnivores and very adaptive, living in just about anyplace that humans have not already claimed. Also like its American cousin, it has faced off with humans off as the Asian Black Bear has been responsible for stealing food from villages as well as killing live stock. These medium sized bears are usually smaller than the American Black Bear, standing at about 55 inches and weighing between 200 and 400 pounds. They are commonly known as the Moon Bear of Tibet because of the distinctive white crescent shape found on the animal’s chest.
The Brown Bear is the largest and most widely dispersed species of bear in the world with eight known subspecies. Grizzly and Kodiak bears are two populations (subspecies) of brown bear found in North America. These giants require massive home ranges, between 10 and 24 square miles, which is why they are usually found in the open wilderness of Canada and Alaska. These vast ranges provide a bounty of foods from fish to game to berries on which brown bears gorge themselves before hibernating during the cold and brutal winter. Second only to the Polar Bear in size, these giants can weight more than half a ton and when standing on two legs, measure more than seven feet tall. Brown bears have been a staple of the American Wilderness since the last Ice Age and though they have been all but driven from the lower 48 states, Alaska boasts a population more than 30,000 of these magnificent animals.
The Panda Bear is the only bear in the world to live almost entirely on vegetation. Ninety-nine percent of a panda’s diet is bamboo, a thick woody member of the grass family. Found only in the most remote areas of China, the Giant Panda is extremely endangered partially because of its unstable diet. Because bamboo is so low in nutritional value, Pandas must spend up to 12 hours a day eating more than 25 pounds of the plant. They are also unable to build up enough fat reserves to hibernate so the Panda remains captive in the bamboo forests throughout the entire winter. Pandas usually reach between five and six feet and weight about 200 pounds when the reach maturity.
The Polar Bear is the largest of the bears and subsequently the largest land carnivore on our planet. When they stand on their hind legs, full grown males can stand higher than ten feet and the largest polar bear ever recorded tipped the scales at more than 2200 pounds. In contrast to the Panda which lives almost entirely off of vegetation, the Polar bear survives almost entirely off of meat, hunting seals that inhabit the cold waters of the Arctic. Their white coats help them to stealthily approach their prey, but as the Earth warms, the ice flows they hunt on have become weaker and less frequent, making it much harder for these magnificent giants to survive. Today, there are an estimate 40,000 wild polar bears although more and more have been spotted out at sea or further inland, no doubt in search of food in both cases.
The Sloth Bear is probably the most puzzling and intriguing bear on Earth. Found in the warm tropical forests of South-east Asia, these shaggy bears were commonly mistaken for some type of sloth, hence their name. Sloth bears are true omnivores, eating a diet rich in small animals, plants, insects and just about anything else edible within their three to five mile home ranges. Unlike most bears, Sloth Bears are mostly nocturnal, resting during the day and going about their business during the night.
The Spectacled Bear is the only bear that is found in South America, living in and around the Andes Mountains between 6,000 and 10,000 feet. These bears usually stand between five and six feet tall and can weigh up to 450 pounds, but most individuals are much smaller than that. Not much is known about their social lives or personalities, but like most bears, they are clearly omnivores, dining mainly on fish, plants, game and anything else it can get its claws on.
The Sun Bear is the last species of bear and also the smallest weighing in at only about 150 pounds. Sun bears inhabit the tropical forests of South-east Asia and subsequently dine on a buffet of small animals, vegetation and insects. Human expansion and poaching are key threats to the sun bear’s survival and studies estimate the sun bears population has declined 30 percent in the last three decades.
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