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Group issues bear survival warning

It is possible that the sun bear is extinct in India, according to a WWF report   

August 5, 1999
Web posted at: 12:21 p.m. EDT (1621 GMT)


(ENN) -- The world's bears are under increasing threat of extinction according to a report issued July 27 by World Wide Fund for Nature. Almost all bear species have undergone dramatic population declines in recent decades mainly due to trade of their body parts, habitat destruction and human/animal conflict, according to the group.

According to the conservation organization's first-ever global review of the world's bears, "Wanted Alive! Bears in the Wild," habitat loss and hunting are having devastating effects on Asia's sloth, sun and black bears.

Bear parts are often employed in traditional Chinese medicine. Bile from the bear gall bladder is an ancient and treasured ingredient used to treat a range of illnesses including serious liver diseases, heart disease and hemorrhoids. Paws and other bear parts are eaten as a delicacy and are also thought to have health-giving properties.

It is possible that the sun bear is extinct in India and its presence in Bangladesh is questionable according to the report. As numbers of Asian bears decline, increasing numbers of North and South American bears are being hunted to satisfy worldwide demand for bear parts.

Logging, cattle ranching, and clearance for poppy and coca fields that feed the lucrative drug trade have also seriously affected South and Central American bears. The Mexican grizzly is now extinct while the spectacled bear struggles for survival mainly in the remaining mountainous forest along the spine of Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru.

In Europe, human and animal conflicts are causing serious problems for bears. Spain and Greece's bears are unlikely to survive unless strict protection programs are put in place. The authors of the report warn that France's few remaining bears are "doomed to extinction" unless "drastic measures" are taken soon.

However, lack of censuses and field studies usually make it very difficult to establish exact numbers of bears in the wild. "We know what is in the market place, but we don't know what is in the forest," said Elizabeth Kemf, species information manager at World Wide Fund for Nature and one of the co-authors of the report. "The markets in Asia are supplied with bear parts, especially in Southeast Asia. While bear numbers in Asia slide downward, bears in the Americas are being increasingly targeted by traders."

Earlier this year, in Virginia, U.S. law enforcement officials seized 300 bear gall bladders, the product of illegal bear kills.

The only bear population that still lives throughout its original range and whose population in some areas has actually doubled is the polar bear. However, it faces new threats in the form of chemicals such as persistent organic pollutants and the effects of global warming on its marine coastal habitat.

"Humans and the impacts of their activities will determine the future of bears," said Dr. Christopher Servheen, co-chair of the IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group and co-author of the report. "A successful bear conservation effort must balance the needs of bears with the needs of people."

Nevertheless, the authors of the report emphasize that there is some good news for bears. Reintroduction plans have been successful. They point out that in Austria, a six-year plan of bear reintroduction has resulted in a significant increase in bears. Most remarkable is a major shift in attitude by Austrian farmers and the general public to protect rather than persecute bears.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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