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Friday, Dec. 14, 2001

ANIMAL TRACKER

Moon bear


* Japanese name: Nihon Tsukinowa-guma
* Scientific name: Ursus thibetanus japonicus
* Description: This is the largest animal in Japan, apart from the Hokkaido brown bear, 110-130 cm tall when standing upright. Also called the Asiatic bear or Japanese black bear, the moon bear gets its Japanese name from the crescent of white fur around its neck. The rest of its fur is black. When walking, moon bears (like all bears) place their weight on their entire foot, like humans, rather than just on the toes, like cats and dogs. They also sit and stand like humans. They have short, stubby tails.
* Where to find them: Moon bears live in and around broadleaf forests in the mountains of Honshu and Shikoku. There are between 10,000 and 15,000 of them, though they are endangered in some areas. As their habitat is destroyed, bears are seen more often around human settlements, sometimes causing damage to farmers' crops and occasionally (often when a female with cubs is startled) attacking humans.
* Food: Nuts and fruit. Also bamboo shoots, wild grapes, raspberries, honey and acorns. Moon bears can easily climb tall trees and can sometimes be seen high up a tree eating fruit.
* Special features: Moon bears have a short but intense breeding season in June and July. Females are induced ovulators, which means that they must be stimulated in order to release an egg. To this end, the male's penis contains a bony structure called the baculum, which apparently stimulates the female during copulation. It also widens inside the female, locking the copulating bears together for up to 30 minutes. One or two cubs are born in January. Because bears hibernate in winter, the gestating cubs don't get as much food as other mammals, so they are very small when they are born. To make up for this, the female's milk is very rich in nutrients and fat.



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