Deep in southwest Mongolia, in the arid shadow of the Altai Nuruu Mountains, a little-known bear ekes out a perilous existence. The Gobi Desert has a host of endangered wildlife, but today the Gobi bear -- a subspecies of the Brown bear known to scientists as Ursus arctos gobiensis -- is one of the most threatened animals in the world. Scientists estimate only 22 to 30 of the bears are left, all in the wild where they face shrinking water supplies thanks to global warming.
Slightly smaller than the Brown bear, the Gobi bear -- or Mazaalai, as they are called in Mongolian -- are the only bears adapted to a desert climate, says Harry Reynolds, an American bear expert who started the joint Mongolian-American Gobi Bear Project research program in 2005. "Gobi bears are special because they can live in an environment no other bear can. Brown bears from almost any other place could not live here and survive," says Reynolds, a retired wildlife biologist and former president of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.
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