Habitat loss due to logging, expansion of agriculture and plantations, roadway networks and dams, combined with hunting for skins, paws and especially gall bladders are the main threats to this species.
Habitat loss due to logging and conversion to agriculture is a major threat to bears in 9 of 18 range countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Russia. Of these countries, Myanmar stands out as it encompasses a relatively large portion (about 12%) of the global range, so habitat loss here will have a large impact on the global status of the species.
Habitat loss and degradation is most severe in the southern portion of the range. In India, <10% of the species’ range is within protected areas (PAs), and areas outside PAs are subject to development projects and extraction of wood for fuel and livestock fodder (Sathyakumar 2006, Sathyakumar et al. 2012). In Bangladesh, where forest cover is now <7% of the land area, Asiatic Black Bears survive only in small remnant patches in the east, generally near the Myanmar and Indian borders. Cambodia and Myanmar, although still well forested (57% and 48%, respectively), are third and fourth in the world in the annual rate of loss of forested area (among countries occupied by black bears; North Korea and Pakistan have higher rates: FAO 2010). Thailand has lower forest cover (<30%), but most of its remaining forests are within PAs, and three-fourths of these are occupied by black bears (Kanchanasakha et al. 2010). Forest area has recently been increasing in Vietnam, but much of the present remaining natural forest is highly degraded from both legal and illegal lumbering (Nguyen Xuan Dang 2006, FAO 2010).
Forest area is increasing rapidly in China, which is now first in the world in terms of area gained per year. This increasing forest area stems from mandated government programs aimed mainly toward reducing flooding and erosion; the replanted trees may or may not be particularly suitable for bears. However, good forest habitat does persist in northeastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Russia, and Japan. In Japan, Asiatic Black Bear range has expanded with increasing forest area and diminishing rural human populations (Oi and Yamazaki 2006, Takahata et al. 2014).
Direct killing represents another potential threat. Local people in Nepal, for example, use meat, organs, and bile for food, for healing, to alleviate pain, or even to deter ghosts (Yadav et al. 2012). The sustainability of this practice has never been measured.
Commercial poaching is believed to be a major threat to bears in at least half the range countries, including China, Taiwan, Russia, India, and the five range countries in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam). Commercial poaching is likely to have especially severe synergistic effects where it coincides with logging and habitat encroachment (Cambodia, Myanmar, Lao, Russia), which increase access for poachers and concentrate bears in ever smaller and fragmented pockets.
Poachers primarily seek gall bladders and paws. The market for bear paws appears to be increasing commensurate with an increasing number of wealthy people who find it within their means to indulge in this very expensive delicacy (Burgess et al. 2014). In 2013, two seizures in two months recovered parts of 81 individual Asiatic Black Bears being smuggled (from Russia) into or within China (Servheen 2013). Such seizures probably represent a small portion of the actual trade in bear paws.
The demand for these bear products has fuelled a growing network of international trade throughout Southeast Asia, fed through poaching of wild bears (Shepherd and Nijman 2008, Foley et al. 2011). Though difficult to quantify because of its covert nature, bear poaching for the wildlife trade is clearly widespread. Hunting of bears for the wildlife trade was reported in over 70% (10 of 14) of the villages interviewed in a northeastern Lao National Protected Area, facilitated by wildlife dealers from Vietnam who comb rural areas to place orders, supply weapons and ammunition, and transport the off-take (Scotson 2010). In parts of Nepal and Myanmar near the Chinese border, Asiatic Black Bears are among the top preferred species that are hunted commercially for sale of their body parts to China (Rao et al. 2005, Yadav 2012).
It is difficult to evaluate the actual impacts of this trade on wild populations because reliable population estimates and assessments of trends of wild bear populations are unavailable (Garshelis 2002, 2006). Nevertheless, there is evidence that this commercially-driven trade in bear parts is unsustainable and therefore causing populations to decline. In Sichuan Province, which likely has the highest numbers of Asiatic Black Bears in China, bear abundance and distribution have been in steady decline according to opinions of local people, driven predominantly by illegal poaching for bear parts (Liu et al. 2009, 2011). Demand for wild bears drives poaching throughout Southeast Asia. Local inhabitants of a large Thai reserve perceived a 50% decline in Asiatic Black Bear abundance over the previous 20 years, due almost solely to commercial poaching (Steinmetz et al. 2006). Across four countries in Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR), relative abundance of Asiatic Black Bears determined from camera trapping was half that of Sun Bears (with which they are widely sympatric) on average, indicating much lower densities (Steinmetz 2011). Notably, areas with the most depleted black bear populations are also closer to the Chinese border (Steinmetz 2011). The Asiatic Black Bear is the most highly valued species for consumers of bear parts, and seizures of bear parts in Southeast Asia are almost exclusively from Asiatic Black Bears (Shepherd and Nijman 2008).
Use of cable snares to capture wildlife is widespread in Southeast Asia, and is particularly intensive in Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Taiwan. In Lao PDR and Vietnam, 1,000s to 10,000s of snares have been removed from single protected areas within a few months (Scotson and Brocklehurst 2013; B. Robichaud, pers. comm). Intensive snaring poses a serious threat to bears because they are often caught inadvertently even if snares are targeted at other species. For example, 8 of 15 bears observed by researchers in Taiwan had missing toes or paws from snares set for wild pigs and other wildlife (Hwang et al. 2010). The recent discovery in Lao PDR of commercially-motivated snare lines designed specifically for bears (Scotson and Hunt 2012) points to increasing pressure on wild populations driven by international demand from the trade in bear parts.
The capture of live bears presents yet another threat to this species. In several Southeast Asian countries Asiatic Black Bears are routinely confiscated from people attempting to raise them as pets, possibly originating from the poaching of their mother for the gall bladder and paws. In Pakistan, several thousand bears were taken from the wild for exhibitions (referred to as bear baiting) in which individual bears (with canines and claws removed) fight with dogs. This practice was made illegal in 2001, but continues to some extent surreptitiously. More commonly now, bears are used for “dancing”.
Conflict between humans and black bears is a widespread problem that occurs across the range of the species: Iran (Ghadirian et al. 2012), Pakistan (Dar et al. 2009, Khan et al. 2012), India (Charoo et al. 2011, Choudhury 2013), Nepal (Stubblefield and Shrestha 2007), Bhutan (Sangay and Vernes 2008; Sonam Wangchuk, Wildlife Conservation Division, Bhutan, pers. comm., 2014), Lao PDR (Scotson et al. 2014), Thailand (Ngoprasert et al. 2011), China (Liu et al. 2011), and Japan (Kishimoto 2009). Human-bear conflicts have negative effects on both people and bears―they include losses to livestock, crops, and apiaries; human injuries and deaths; and killing of bears in defence or retribution. Crop raiding is often extensive especially where farm fields and orchards are close to forest, as in India, Bhutan, and Lao PDR, and large numbers of farmers have reported crop damage from black bears (Charoo et al. 2011, Rinzin et al. 2009, Scotson et al. 2014). Killing of Asiatic Black Bears in cropfields may be motivated more by the value of their parts than the protection of the crops (Liu et al. 2011, Yadav et al. 2012, Scotson et al. 2014).
Human injuries and deaths sometimes occur at tragically high rates, especially in densely settled areas with abundant bears: in Sikkim state, India, at least 25 people were killed or injured by black bears during 2008-2013 (Choudhury 2013). In Honshu, Japan, about 80 people are injured annually, including a few deaths (Japan Bear Network 2011). Such conflicts commonly give rise to negative attitudes towards black bears (Wang et al. 2006, Charoo et al. 2011, Liu et al. 2011, Sakurai and Jacobson 2011). Human-bear conflict can be a source of significant bear mortality when local people or government authorities kill bears to reduce damage; in an extreme case, over 4,000 bears were killed as pests in Japan in 2006 (Kishimoto 2009), representing a significant portion of the country’s population of black bears.
Protected areas are often too small to contain resident black bears. Black bears have large home ranges (>100 km² in some areas; Hwang et al. 2010, Chongsomchai 2013), and their wide-ranging movements may bring them near or beyond the borders of protected areas, where they are more vulnerable to poaching and more likely to come into conflict with farmers (Hwang et al. 2010, Ngoprasert et al. 2011, Choudhury 2013). The availability of natural foods also has a strong effect on whether bears roam outside protected areas. Periods of mast failure or low fruit availability can induce bears to seek human foods outside the forest (Kishimoto 2009, Ngoprasert et al. 2011). Black bear raiding of corn fields adjacent to a park in Thailand coincided with annual periods of low fruit availability, and resulted in some being killed by farmers (Ngoprasert et al. 2011).