Monday, November 12, 2007

Bad News, Bears

No, this is not a post about my favorite college football team, although the title might be apt.

Rather it is about actual bears, or more to the point, the fact that three quarters of the bear species on the planet are in danger of extinction:
Six out of the world’s eight species of bears are threatened with extinction, according to recent assessments by the IUCN Bear and Polar Bear Specialist Groups.
Those of you who know me probably know of my fondness for bears. That alone makes the news very sad to me. But beyond my personal preferences, threatened bears are probably an indication of great danger to the larger ecosystems in which they live. The common threat to most of the threatened bears is habitat destruction. If the bears can't live there anymore, it's likely an indication of general ecosystem degradation.

I may be wrong about that. For one thing, different kinds of bears play very different roles in their ecosystems. Polar bears, for example, are top-level predators, where black bears (not terribly threatened) are generalist scavengers, for the most part. Pandas are highly specialized, particularly with regard to diet. So threats to a particular type of bear might just mean that bear is too specialized.

I'm not an ursinologist (nor even a wildlife biologist), but I do know that bears are magnificent creatures, and it's sad that they're in decline. It might not be the kind of dire threat that the precipitous decline in sharks is, but still, it would tend to indicate problems.

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