asian black bears
Two Asian black bears were kept as pets by a villager in China after he mistook them for dogs (representational image) Reuters

Two Asian black bears have been sent to a wildlife rescue centre after they were discovered living with a villager in China's Yunnan Province who had mistaken them for pet dogs.

Wang Kaiyu, from Maguan County, had owned the bears for two years after buying them from Vietnam.

He had been told they were dogs when he bought them and said they were lively, not picky about food and friendly with humans. However, when they started getting older, he said they started behaving strangely and not like dogs, China Daily reports.

Nevertheless, he said he loved his "puppies" and would bath and comb their hair every day.

He finally realised his mistake when he saw a wildlife protection promotion about Asian black bears, which are listed as a class II protected species. After pondering his options, he decided to get in touch with authorities to let them know the situation.

He contacted the public security bureau and the bears were moved to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre of Yunnan, where a spokesperson said both male and female were in good health.

Asian black bears are listed as vulnerable on the ICUN Red List with widespread hunting and loss of habitat posing a serious threat to the species.

Declining numbers have been recorded across south-east Asia, China and Taiwan, with an estimated population drop of up to 49% over the past 30 years.

In terms of wildlife trade, bear parts – most notably their gall bladders – are sold across China and south-east Asia. "The capture of live bears presents yet another threat to this species. In several south-east Asian countries, Asiatic black bears are routinely confiscated from people attempting to raise them as pets," the ICUN notes.

"In Pakistan, several thousand bears were taken from the wild for exhibitions [referred to as bear baiting] in which individual bears [with canines and claws removed] fight with dogs. This practice was made illegal in 2001, but continues to some extent."