Habitat, conflict, and poaching of Asiatic black bears Ursus thibetanus in Central China. Liu Fang, Wang Dajun, Zhu Xiaojian – Peking University, Beijing, China William J. McShea, Conservation and Research Center, Smithsonian Inst.
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Habitat, conflict, and poaching of Asiatic
black bears Ursus thibetanus in Central China
Liu Fang, Wang Dajun, Zhu Xiaojian – Peking University, Beijing, China
William J. McShea, Conservation and Research Center, Smithsonian Inst.
David Garshelis, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Grand Rapids
Distribution of Asiatic Black Bears
The current map of black bear distribution based on expert opinion collected by IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Most countries either “status unknown” or “known to be declining”
1997 Population Estimates Derived from:
Interviews, all species sign surveys & habitat extrapolations; 10,000 transects covering >22,000 km2
Within China, there had only been one survey of black bears as part of a 1997 all-species survey. This resulted in 3 different estimates of bear numbers and 1 official state number. It is very difficult to estimate numbers of bears and a better way to track populations is needed.
Sichuan province is the size of France and has a broad range of elevations and habitat types
Bears in China have the same problems as bears throughout Asia – conflicts with villagers over crop damage, and poaching to supply the restaurant and medicine trade.
Asiatic Black Bears in Sichuan
2015 15 x 15 km cells
There are 6 physiographic regions in Sichuan province and we condensed this into 3 zones for analysis – East (I-IV), West (V) and South (VI)
372 cells (18%)
We decided where to look based on forest cover, elevation and road density. Our final selection had a good range of each combination of values.
494 cells surveyed
We surveyed 24% of the province. Each cell (15km x 15km) was visited, with interviews and ground surveys conducted.
All interviews were conducted by Liu Fang (Peking University) and staff of Wanglang Nature Reserve
Inspecting bear feeding platform in Ye Minority Area in southern Sichuan.
Examples of bear sign: Claw marks and feeding platforms (nests)
Examples of foods eaten by bears in these forests
When no villagers could bring staff to bear sign, the staff established transects in best forest and looked for sign.
360 red cells (73%) - with bears
Green cells – no bears
Dark green lost bears > lifetime
Light green (33% of green) lost
bears in their lifetime
Results: 73% of the cells surveyed contained evidence of bears.
Red cells = bears / Green cells = no bears / Lighter green = decrease in bears
Statistical model to predict bears across the province. Most important factors are forest cover, amount of agriculture and roads.
41% of Province is
occupied (> 67% prob.)
The darker the green the more likely there are bears. At present 41% of province is occupied. This is the baseline to be used in future surveys. We have overlaid the present park system and many giant panda parks could also serve to conserve bears. Need for more reserves in southwest of province.
> 30% Agriculture
> 25 towns/cell
First 2 can be
Based on statistical model we can see where tipping points can cause loss of bears. When forest cover drops below 30% / agricultural cover increases beyond 30% / number of towns increases beyond 25 per cell – the probability of bears decreases significantly.
In areas with bears, we interviewed villagers to discover their attitudes towards bears
Average farm – mixture of forest and crops
Villager View of Bear Population Trend
58% consider bearnumbers are decreasing - Pink cells
No new bear populations
Bears are decreasing or
extirpated at all levels of
These ranges of forestcoverand agricultureshould be okay for bears
based on ground surveys,yet bears are notprospering
You can measure the suitabilityof habitat remotely, but notwhether bears are persisting
Are these declining populations found mostly in poor habitat? NO – declining populations can be found in best habitats so at least some decline is related to other factors such as poaching.
Does religious background or nationality make a difference? Most wildlife foundin minority regions – Several ethnic groups in Sichuan - 4 ethnic groups in our study
What do villagers think about bears*????
Most people interviewed do not like bears.
The problems are centred around crop and livestock damage.
Tibetan culture, which is very favourable to wildlife conservation goals, did not prevent villagers from having negative opinions of bears
* based on 850 interviews in bear occupied cells
Bear damage and conflict occurs throughout province
360 cells with bears
174 crop damage
114 livestock damage
49 attacks on people
Bears and humans do have conflict. Villagers throughout the region report crop damage, livestock damage and attacks on humans. These conflicts are the root of many bear conservation issues in Sichuan province.
Poaching reported in 112 cells (1/3 cells with bears)
In all areas where bears were present we asked villagers about the level of poaching. Poaching was reported across the province. It was not limited to one region or one ethnic group.
Taking the admittance of poaching in the previous slide as an index of where poaching occurs, we can see that these places are where bear populations are more likely to be declining.
80% of populations are declining in areas of poaching activity
38% of populations are declining in areas of nopoaching
No government programme to compensate or educate
It is difficult to obtain a true picture of how much poaching impacts bear populations.
The most information here is that
few villagers use non-lethal means
to deter bears and 1/3 complain
to the government,
even though there is no programme to redress their losses
With the exception of the northern QinLing mountains, this study encompassed all the current range of giant pandas outlined in yellow.
The range of bears overlaps entirely the known range of giant pandas in Sichuan province. Most reserves in the heart of the bear range were established for giant pandas and not for bears.
Asiatic black bears more indicative of conservation
priority area than pandas
Bears may be a better species to assess conservation hot spots than pandas. The light green area is the extent of the Tibetan area hot spot as identified by Conservation International. The range of giant pandas is in red and the range of bears in Sichuan province is the boxes. The boxes more closely track the conservation area than do the red areas. In Sichuan province tracking bear populations may be a good surrogate for tracking the health of the conservation area.
National Zoo (FONZ)
Sichuan Forestry Department
Wanglang Reserve Staff
International Bear Association
Animals Asia Foundation (AAF)
Wildlife Conservation Society
Virginia Tech University
World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA)
China Wildlife ConservationAgency