Exhibiting a distinguished creamy orange V-shaped crest on its furry black chest and two large cartoonish-round ears upon its brow, the Asiatic Black Bear, or Moon Bear, is a sight to behold.
Similar to China’s Giant Panda Bear, this exquisite mammal has adopted special cultural meaning for its home country. These bears are widely considered the Mother Goddess of Korean soil.
Unfortunately, in contrast with the common awareness of the Giant Panda’s threatened existence, many people remain incognizant about the desperate state of the Asiatic Black Bear.
In just the past fifty years, the population of Asiatic Black Bear has been diminished by 95% due to habitat destruction and poaching. Without any conservation activity it is estimated that the current population would drop to 2% in less than 10 years, moving towards complete extinction in a brief 23 years.
In direct response to these devastating estimations, a group of scientists have collaborated amidst the lush hills of Korea’s first designated National Park, Jirisan Mt., to proactively restore hope for these special bears. The Restoration Project of the Asiatic Black Bear, Species Restoration Center was first launched in 2004. This being one of the first conservation projects initiated in Korea, it has commendably introduced an essential environmental concern into the nation’s consciousness.
As stated in the Species Restoration Center guidelines, this project is dedicated to the development of wildlife conservation efforts and education, as well as the protection of natural ecosystems and the restoration of endangered wildlife in Korea. They aim to encourage a caring and positive relationship between all of the nation’s inhabitants, and create a foundation where people may harmonize with wildlife.
Currently, nine bears reside at the center. Chun-Wang, named after the highest peak in Jirisan, was recently taken in after too many friendly encounters with campers in the park. His apparent sweet tooth and forthcoming demeanor has regrettably spoiled his dental health, and he has since been isolated for intensive treatment. His charming character, however, has respectably deemed him worthy of such a name.
Gha-Sok, another handsome male of the group, sadly, was brought in after being caught in a bear trap laid by farmers (trying to protect wild pigs). His fate was un-certain after such a terrible encounter with the rusty metal claws and sharp wire that tore through his flesh. Fortunately, the Species Restoration team was timely and effective in mending his potentially lethal wounds. He has since recovered and met his mate, the lovely Chil-Sun, and will hopefully be expecting cubs this winter.
The Restoration project is working swiftly towards its main aspiration of achieving a wild bear population of at least 50 by the year 2012. When a bear is released into the wild and is able to proceed with its natural lifecycle, including independent feeding, hibernating and copulating, then that bear is considered successfully adapted into its environment.
Asiatic Black Bears are not mature enough to reproduce until they are four years old. After mating, delayed implantation of the fertilized egg allows the female to stave off pregnancy until winter hibernation. During hibernation, in accordance with proper nutrition, the female may give birth to two cubs. The bear cubs are extremely vulnerable for the first several months of their lives. They are unable to see or hear for up to 60 days after their birth. They are finally weaned after six months, but may stay with their mother for two to three years. Only 50% of cubs generally survive to maturity. This fragile reproduction cycle has undoubtedly affected their population recovery.
Nonetheless, the project’s first cubs were born in the wild this year, which alludes to a prosperous future for the Restoration Project of the Asiatic Black Bears.