A Rare 19thC Himalayan Black Bear Skull


Origin: Himalayan
Period: Mid/Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1860-1900
Height: 6 inches (at maximum)
Length: 11 inches (at maximum)

The nigh on complete preserved skull of a female Himalayan Black Bear (Selenarctos thibetanus laniger) with near full set of teeth, surviving from the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The condition of the whole is very good, nigh on pristine, with a well-aged patination and ivory hue making the skull very tactile. Only two of the teeth are missing. There are no obvious flaws nor clues to if the specimen was killed through hunting or not.

The Himalayan black bear is a rare subspecies of the Asiatic black bear. Himalayan black bears are scattered across the Himalayas from Bhutan to Pakistan. They are most populous in mountainous areas and jungles.

During the summer, Himalayan black bears can be found in warmer areas in Nepal, China, Russia, and Tibet at altitudes of 10,000 to 12,000 feet up near the timberline. For winter, they descend as low as 5,000 to more tropical forests. Himalayan black bears have a black coat with a light brown muzzle and a pale yellow crescent on their chest. On average, they measure from 56 to 65 inches nose to tail and weigh from 200 to 265 pounds, though they may weigh as much as 400 pounds in the fall when they are fattening up for hibernation. They are diurnal by nature, though the majority of them have become nocturnal in order to avoid humans. They often spend the day in caves or hollowed out trees.

The skulls of Asian black bears are relatively small, but massive, particularly in the lower jaw. Adult males have skulls measuring 311.7–328 mm (12.3–13 in) in length and 199.5–228 mm (7.9–9 in) wide, while females (like this example) have skulls measuring 291.6–315 mm (11.5-12.4 in) long and 163–173 mm (6.4-6.8 in) wide. Compared to other bears of the genus Ursus, the projections of the skull are weakly developed; the sagittal crest is low and short, even in old specimens, and does not exceed more than 19–20% of the total length of the skull, unlike in brown bears, which have sagittal crests comprising up to 41% of the skull's length. Although mostly herbivorous, the jaw structure of Asian black bears is not as specialised for plant eating as that of pandas: Asian black bears have much narrower zygomatic arches, and the weight ratio of the two pterygoid muscles is also much smaller in Asian black bears. However, the lateral slips of the temporal muscles are thicker and stronger in black bears.

Academically and decoratively satisfying, this is a scarce piece of antique natural history presented in superb condition.