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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.

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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

population trend iucn bear specialist group japan 2006
Population Trend (IUCN Bear Specialist Group, Japan 2006)

Most countries either “status unknown” or “known to be declining”

asiatic black bears in china
1997 Population Estimates Derived from:

Interviews, all species sign surveys & habitat extrapolations; 10,000 transects covering >22,000 km2

Asiatic Black Bears in China

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

48,000 km2

Sichuan province is the size of France and has a broad range of elevations and habitat types


Why are bears having problems in China and particularly in Sichuan Province?

  • Crop damage
  • Wildlife trade – restaurants andtraditional medicine

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

  • Province-wide survey
  • Village interviews
  • Sign transects
  • _____________________
  • Trained reservestaff used

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)


Selected grids

County border

Unselected grids

Sichuan border

Forest cover


“Final” Selection

372 cells (18%)

Road Density

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.

1 800 interview records from 400 townships
1,800 interviewrecords from>400 townships

All interviews were conducted by Liu Fang (Peking University) and staff of Wanglang Nature Reserve


Bear Sign

Examples of bear sign: Claw marks and feeding platforms (nests)


The protocol

  • In suitable habitat
  • 5 transects - 100 m x 20 m across slope
  • All trees examined for sign
  • No sign located with villagers or by transect = no bears

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

logistic model construction
Logistic Model Construction
  • 3 regions (eastern, southern, western)
  • Used AIC values to rank models of all sensible combinations of variables
  • Considered models with delta AIC < 2 equivalent
  • Eastern region – best models – forest, agriculture, and shrub cover; number of towns; elevation
  • Western and Southern region – best models – forest, agriculture and shrub cover; amt of roads
  • Assigned probability of occurrence to each cell

Statistical model to predict bears across the province. Most important factors are forest cover, amount of agriculture and roads.

probability of bear occurrence in sichuan province
Probability of Bear Occurrence in Sichuan Province

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.


Tipping Points

  • in Sichuan Province
  • < 20% Forest cover

> 30% Agriculture

> 25 towns/cell

First 2 can be

measured with

remote sensing


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.

Use Interview of Local Villagersto Gauge Population Trends855 interviews in cells occupied by bears(July 2005 – November 2006)

In areas with bears, we interviewed villagers to discover their attitudes towards bears


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

habitat quality

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*????

  • 63% - believe bear numbers decreasing [42% blame poaching]
  • 48% - dislike bears in area
  • 43% - no opinion
  • 9% - favourable to bears
  • Han, Tibetan, and Yi cultures not significantly different in attitude.
  • The more contact with bears the less likely a villager to have favorable or neutral opinion (Least Squares Mean, p < 0.01)
  • More education and less contact are important (stepwise multiple regression, p < 0.01)

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.

poaching activity related to bear population trend
Poaching activity related to bear population trend

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

what do villagers do about bear conflicts 472 replies
What do villagers do about bear conflicts? (472 replies)
  • 54% - Tolerate
  • 30% - Complain to Gov.
  • 14% - Poaching / poison
  • 2% - Non-lethal prevention

(dogs, fires)

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



Min Shan


Sichuan Basin


Liang Mountains

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

Peking University

World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA)

China Wildlife ConservationAgency