TO THE MOON AND BACK

In early 2018 we introduced you to a beary cool pair of animals, the sun bears. But did you know the Virginia Zoo is home to another pair of bears? Although the two species are similar – they both are black in color, have a crescent moon on their chests and are native to Asia, the moon bears are a unique species that you’ll soon find yourself…loving to the moon and back. It’s National Bear Awareness Week, so why not get to know these unbearably awesome mammals?

This species of bear has many nicknames. We know them best as moon bears, but they are also known as white-chested bears as well as their formal name, Asiatic black bears. They are called moon bears and white-chested bears for the signature white, off-white and sometimes yellow crescent moon-shaped patch on their chests. Apart from their chest, the bears are covered in sleek, black fur and are similar in size to their North American bear relatives. Moon bears weigh between 200 to 400 pounds on average and can stand up to six feet in height.

Asiatic black bears are native to parts of the Middle East and Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Japan, and Vietnam and have recently been spotted in a rare sighting in Korea. Their typical habitat can range from forests to shrublands, grasslands or even wetlands.

The species is listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss from logging and expansion of infrastructure such as roadways. The bears are also illegally hunted for their skins, paws and gall bladders, which are believed to hold medicinal qualities by native people, although this has not been proven scientifically.

Moon bears are omnivorous and in the wild their diet consists of shoots, forbs and leaves in spring, insects and a variety of tree and shrub-borne fruits in summer, and nuts in autumn. The moon bears at the Virginia Zoo are fed a diet of fruit and root vegetables daily, with an occasional meal of fish such as smelt or Norfolk spot, hard-boiled eggs, superworms and mixed nuts. The Zoo’s moon bears also recently received a special Animeals with a unique twist on their regular diet.

Chai and Thai are the Zoo’s two moon bears that share an exhibit in the Asia – Trail of the Tiger. The pair have been at the Zoo since 2011 and lived at the Metro Richmond Zoo before coming to Norfolk. The brothers were both born in a litter of four cubs on January 16, 2006 at the Denver Zoo in Colorado.

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