Bears are keystone, or umbrella, species. Each population of bears is of great significance to the wider ecosystem in which it lives. If steps are taken to protect a bear population’s habitat then the whole related environment and the animals and plants within it also benefit.
Bears face a number of threats including loss of habitat, hunting, poaching, capture and climate change. These once abundant animals are now largely confined to the forested and mountainous regions of the world; areas with little or no human population.
Mostly, people seem to love bears but find it hard to co-exist with them. As a result bear populations pose significant management problems for national and local governments and for land owners and managers.
Encroaching civilization has lead to the destruction of bear habitat and bear populations on a huge scale over the last hundred years or so. Whilst there are some hopeful signs, in many areas the situation is going from bad to worse and is now being exacerbated by climate change, human population growth, environmental pollution and increasing land values.
Six of the eight bear species are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable to extinction. The other two species of bear, whilst not threatened globally, face local and regional threats and challenges.
The future of bears can only be ensured through positive action to conserve habitats, reduce conflicts with humans, clamp down on poaching and ameliorate the effects of climate change. Research and management projects are undoubtedly important, education and the promotion of tolerance and goodwill towards bears even more so.
Bears matter not only as keystone species but also as an important part of the world in which we live. A world without bears would be a poorer, sadder place.
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Page updated 10 June 2018