Tibetan blue bear in Oji Zoo, Kobe, Japan (pelican – Creative Commons Licence)

Accepted scientific name:  Ursus arctos pruinosus (Blyth, 1854)

Description:  Whilst the fur of the bear is essentially black the outer guard hairs give the bear a blue / grey appearance.

Range:  Historically found mainly on the alpine eastern Tibetan plateau (4,500 to 5,000 metres), in eastern Tibet, western China, Nepal and occasionally in Bhutan.  Remaining bears in the wild seem to be confined to eastern Tibet and to Bhutan.   A sighting was reported on the northern plateau near the historic border between Tibet and China in 2013.  A further confirmed sighting was made in a remote valley in eastern Tibet in June 2019.

Red and blue lines outline the approximate historical range of the Himalayan brown bear and the Tibetan blue bear, respectively. (https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1804 – Lan et al 2017, the Royal Society – Creative Commons Licence)

Habitat: Lives in mountainous regions at high altitudes close to the tree line.

Status:  Thought to be very rare.  Listed in Appendix I of CITES and in the USA trade in blue bear specimens or parts is restricted by the Endangered Species Act.

Life span:  Unknown but assumed to be around 20 to 30 years in common with other brown bears in the wild.

Food:  Small mammals, particularly pika.  Allegedly will kill and eat livestock and enter nomad dwellings to take food.  Probably also eats vegetation and pine nuts when and where avaialble but little is known about the bears’ diet.

Behaviour:  Probably the least known and least studied of all brown bear subspecies.  Evidence indicates that the Tibetan blue bear is very shy of human contact and therefore very seldom observed.

Threats:  Threatened by the use of bear bile in Chinese medicine and by habitat loss and human conflict.

Tibetan blue bear – (Joseph Smit, 1836 – 1929 – Public Domain)


Conserving Tibetan brown bears in Tibet

Page updated 25 February 2021