Bears are the largest carnivores on land. However, many bears consume high proportions of vegetation in their diets - as much as 95 per cent in some species. Bears have small eyes and ears and large snouts. Their sense of smell is extremely well developed, and this serves them well while foraging and hunting. Bears tend to be exceedingly strong, and a single blow can break a human skull.

The world's largest land carnivore, the Kodiak bear - a subspecies of brown bear - lives in North America. It is a huge, hairy animal that can grow to 3 m (10 ft) tall. Despite their immense size and strength, bears are generally not the vicious predators many people think they are. Most eat more plant food than meat, and they are usually shy beasts, preferring to stay away from humans.

Asian Black Bear

The Asian Black Bear has the dubious accolade of being the bear most prized by poachers. Its organs are believed locally to be of particular medicinal potency. Formerly it roamed across most of Asia, from Afghanistan to Japan, but thanks to hunting pressure it is now restricted to small, isolated pockets of high-altitude woodland. It looks similar to the American bears, with black-brown hair and a cream-coloured V-shape across its chest. However, it has larger ears than most other bears.

In the wild, Asian Black Bears are omnivorous, eating small mammals and birds as well as invading bee nests and termite mounds. They mainly eat plant matter and may raid crops or climb trees to obtain fruit and nuts. As well as eating insect larvae and ants, they can be aggressive predators and may kill cattle, sheep and goats. They are good tree-climbers, despite their short claws, and will spend most of their days aloft. In cooler regions they hibernate, sleeping from November until early April. Females lose nearly half of their body weight during hibernation, so they have to eat well beforehand. In warmer climes the bears often migrate to the lowlands to avoid a winter sleep.

The female has a litter of 2 cubs, which are blind and extremely small at birth. The cubs stay with their mother until they are almost fully grown.

The Asian Black Bear's whitish chest patch gives it the nickname "moon bear".

Distribution: Southern Asia, Russia, Korea and Japan.

Habitat: Deciduous tropical forest and brushland.

Food: Small mammals, insects, honey and fruit.

Size: 1.2 - 1.9 m (4 - 6.25 ft); 90 - 115 kg (198 - 253 lb).

Maturity: 4 years.

Breeding: 1 - 4 cubs born 6 - 8 months after mating.

Life span: 25 years.

Status: Endangered.

Spectacled Bears

This is the only bear now found in South America, and the last survivor of a group that first appeared there two million years ago.

What helps distinguish Spectacled bears from other living members of the Ursidae family is the fact that they have just 13, rather than 14, pairs of ribs. They are small in size, however, compared with their extinct shortfaced relatives, which could have weighed up to 1000 kg (2205 lb). Spectacled bears can be encountered in a range of different habitats, but they favour high-altitude cloud forest rather than rainforest areas. They spend much of their time off the ground in trees.

Distribution: Ranges from Panama in Central America via Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador to parts of Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina, favouring mountainous areas.

Weight: 64 - 155 kg (141 - 341 lb); males are heavier.

Length: 119 - 150 cm (47 - 59 in); about 71 cm (28 in) tall.

Maturity: 4 - 7 years.

Gestation Period: 200 - 260 days.

Breeding: 2 - 3; weaning takes place around 18 months.

Food: Omnivorous, feeding on fruit, berries, plants, nuts, seeds, small vertebrates and carrion.

Lifespan: Up to 25 years; as long as 36 years recorded in captivity.

Facial Appearance

The jaws are short, and the facial markings are a combination of white and yellow fur.


Fur is black or dark brown and dense, giving good protection from the elements.


The paws are powerful and equipped with sharp claws, enabling these bears to dig effectively.


The Spectacled bears can differ markedly in appearance, with only some displaying the typical paler areas of fur around the eyes that account for their name.