World's Smallest Bear Faces Extinction

Eliane Engeler in Geneva
Associated Press
November 13, 2007

The world's smallest bear species faces extinction because of deforestation and poaching in its Southeast Asian home, a conservation group said Monday.

The sun bear, whose habitat stretches from India to Indonesia, has been classified as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

(See Photo Gallery: Most Endangered Bears Ranked.)

"We estimate that sun bears have declined by at least 30 percent over the past 30 years and continue to decline at this rate," said Rob Steinmetz, a bear expert with the Geneva-based group.

The group estimates there are just over 10,000 sun bears left, said Dave Garshelis, co-chair of the IUCN bear specialist group.

The bear, which weighs between 90 and 130 pounds (between 40 and 60 kilograms), is hunted for its bitter, green bile, which has long been used by Chinese traditional medicine practitioners to treat eye, liver, and other ailments. Bear paws are also considered a delicacy to eat.

Another threat comes from loggers, who are destroying the sun bear's habitat, Steinmetz said.

Thailand is the only country to have effectively banned logging and enforced laws against poaching, allowing the sun bear population to remain stable there, Garshelis said.

Vulnerable Bears

IUCN said six of the eight bear species in the world are now threatened with extinction.

Other vulnerable bear species are the Asiatic black bear (see photo), the sloth bear on the Indian subcontinent, the Andean bear (see photo) in South America, and the polar bear.

The brown bear and the American black bear are in a lesser category of threat, IUCN said.

Continued on Next Page >>




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