Asiatic Black Bears
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Status and management of the Asiatic black bears in Korea
On November 13, 2002, an animal monitoring camera installed by the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) in the deep woods of Jirisan National Park captured a live picture of an Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus) in the wild. This was the first time that the government authority found a living proof of a wild Asian black bear in Korea since the mid 1980s.
Black bears, or the crescent moon bears, as it is called in Korea for its white crescent shaped hair over its chest, roamed the mountain side since the beginning of history in Korea. However, due to loss of habitat and illegal poaching, the number of black bears decreased at a rapid speed in the latter 20th century. Although efforts were made by the Korean government in 1982 to designate the animal as an endangered species under the Natural Environment Preservation Act and listed it as the "Natural Monument No. 329", the number of the bear continued to decrease and finally, there hasn't been a living proof of the black bear in wild since the mid 1980s.
However, traces of bear paws and excretions were found even very recently and there were rumors of black bear in the remote region of Jirisan and few others.
In November 2000, a local TV caught a picture of a black bear in Jirisan and soon after, cameras were set up by NIER for black bear watch throughout Jirisan. Two years after, the black bear finally made its appearance in these cameras.
The National Parks Authority (NPA) has already began conducting a study on the bear's habitat, by examining the hair, excretion, and other traces near the area where the picture was taken. The National Parks Authority plans to regulate the security and control of the parks to secure more stable habitat for the Asiatic Black Bears. Through the restoration project, NPA hopes to promote a more sustainable number of the Asiatic Black Bear species in Korea.
Current Conservation Efforts
Asiatic black bears are being threatened in Korea and also all over the world, due to widespread poaching or illegal killing to supply Asian markets with bear gall bladders and paws which are considered to have medicinal value in China, Japan, and Korea. They are also being killed by farmers because the Asiatic Black Bears tend to eat on livestock and crops. Young ones are often captured to be trained as circus animals, and habitat loss is also a great problem in their decline.
Various regulations and measures have taken to protect the Asiatic black bears in Korea. On September 19, 2002, the Ministry of Environment announced its plans for designating a special area of Jirisan National Park as the "Special Preservation Area for Asiatic Black Bears". This will be the first time in Korea that a specified region is designated for the preservation of a certain animal. The designated area will be about 158km2, and if established, the area will be restricted from trespassing, gathering of plants, installing of the sign posts, and will be used for the preservation activities, such as conducting research or survey on bear resources for more advanced protection of, and research on the Asiatic black bears.
Along with this implementation, the Ministry of Environment also plans to establish a "Asiatic Black Bear Restoration Center" in Jeollanam-do, to facilitate education and promotion activities and international cooperation programs, for better preservation and propagation of the Asiatic Black Bear species in Korea.
To save our precious Asiatic Black Bears from extinction, everyone should take a step forward in protecting these animals. Nationally, it is necessary to make people aware of the current status of the Asiatic black bears and then educate them regarding relevant laws and programs. Also people who illegally capture or kill wildlife should be strictly punished.
Although there is still a long way to go to achieve these challenging goals, with the National and local governments taking strong measures on wildlife conservation problems, and the NGOs and local citizens' all taking a part in country's wildlife conservation measures, Asiatic black bears will successfully establish their habitats in Korea.
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Experiment for Effective Management
In order to find an artificial intervention technique to increase the number of black bears in Korea, the National Institute of Environmental Research under the Ministry of Environment has been carrying out the "Asiatic Black Bear Restoration Project" since 1998.
In January and February of 2001, four baby black bears, belonging to a subspecies of Asiatic black bear in Mt. Jiri, were selected from a brooding facility in Korea. After separating them from the mother bear, they were weaned and put through a wild adjustment program from April to August of 2001. Attached with radio transmitters, the bears were released into the Gurye region in Mt. Jiri on September 8, 2001. One female bear was brought back since it generally failed to adapt to the wild, and one was found dead, but the remaining two bears have successfully adapted to the wild. These bears will continue to be watched to obtain a variety of data about the life of black bears, including feeding behavior and growth and propagation patterns. The study is expected to provide valuable data for black bear restoration projects in the future.
History and Background
Asiatic black bears(Ursus thibetanus) play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity in the ecosystem and also take up a special and symbolic place in Korea's culture and history because they appear in our founding myth. The story of black bear can be found in the 5000 year history of Korea.
Ever since the Paleolithic Age and just before the modern era, bears were recognized as the divine animals in Korea, since they appeared as having a spiritual power in the historical myths, literary works and religious rituals. However, the bears began having medicinal and economic values and were hunt down by human being.. Also, during the Korean war (1959~1953), their habitats were virtually destroyed, and consequently, many of the bears were killed during the time.
The number of existing Asiatic black bears in Korea is only about 20~30. Their future is not so bright, and more strict regulations for their protection is becoming necessary, as they're closely on a verge of extinction in the near future.
Characteristics and Lifespan
The lifespan of Asiatic black bears in the wild is about twenty-five years or more. Considered a medium-size bear, males tend to be larger than females. They are excellent tree climbers and live on a diverse diet, which includes both meat and plant material. They are hated by farmers because they often kill their livestock at night, and this hatred of them may be one reason why conservation efforts are so difficult to enforce in some countries. Eating virtually anything edible, their diet also consists of mammals, fish, birds, termites, beetles, larvae, honey, fruits, nuts and berries.