Endangered Creature Future: The Gobi Bear
True Desert Survivor!
You’re looking at the only bear in the world that spends its whole life in a desert. The Gobi bear is found in the Mongolian part of the Gobi desert – and nowhere else. It was first discovered over 75 years ago, but scientists still don’t know much about it. It’s thought there may be fewer than 40 bears living in the Gobi. Can these incredibly rare bears continue to exist in this extreme environment?
What is the Gobi bear?
The Gobi bear (or mazaalai, as it’s called in Mongolian) is a subspecies of the brown bear. Brown bears are found across North America, Central Asia and Europe (but not the UK). The Gobi bear is different from other subspecies of brown bear in several ways:
Size: the Gobi bear is small and slim, but it has long legs. Fur – its coat is golden-brown and shaggy.
Claws and teeth: these are short and blunt in a Gobi bear because they get worn down by walking and digging for food in their hard, stony habitat.
Diet: Gobi bears feed mainly on the roots of wild rhubarb. They also eat wild onions, berries, grass shoots, flowers and a small number of insects and rodents. Hibernation – this bear sometimes has to spend the cold winter curled up in draughty bushes, rather than a nice, cosy den.
Cubs: the Gobi bear usually gives birth to just one cub every two years. The cub is born in the bear’s winter den.
Where does the Gobi bear live?
Image © Eric Dragesco/naturepl.com
Gobi bears live in a part of the desert called the Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area (GGSPA). This is one of the world’s largest nature reserves, but it’s a tough place to be. Gobi bears are forced to travel large distances across the dry, dusty desert in search of an oasis. Here, they have a chance of finding food and water – the bear necessities of life!
Why is the Gobi bear endangered?
Because there are so few of them, Gobi bears are in great danger of becoming extinct. Anything that threatens their survival can have a huge impact, such as:
Climate change: In the future, the Gobi desert could get even hotter and drier than it is now. And this would make it even harder for the bears to find food and water.
Mining: Large companies are trying to persuade the government of Mongolia to let them start mining for coal, copper and gold in the GGSPA. This would disturb the bears, destroy their habitat and use up a massive amount of precious water.
Ninja miners: This is the name given to people who already sneak into the GGSPA to look for gold. This illegal activity also disturbs Gobi bears.
A remote camera captures a Gobi bear in a waterhole.
Image: National Geographic Image Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
How are Gobi bears being helped?
The Gobi Bear Project is helping the government of Mongolia to protect its Gobi bears by:
Tracking bears: Scientists have caught and fitted 20 bears so far with radio collars so they can study the bears’ behaviour. This helps scientists work out the best ways to help them.
Feeding bears: The project has set up feeding stations for the bears. This makes sure they have enough food before they hibernate in winter.
Patrolling the GGSPA: Rangers ride around the area on motorbikes on the lookout for illegal ninja miners.
What's the future for Gobi bears?
Exciting news: scientists think the number of Gobi bears in the GGSPA could be slowly increasing! If these super tough mazaalai can survive in this harsh habitat, then maybe – with our help – the Gobi desert will be home to them for many more years to come.
Enjoyed reading this feature? Find out more about incredible Gobi animals in issue 53, The Gobi Desert!
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