Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

Brown Bear

UK History

Brown bears were present in Britain until around 500 A.D. but were exterminated by hunting (competitor for prey as well as for fur, meat and other attributes)

UK Status

Extinct in the wild.

Global Status

In Europe, there are about 13,000 brown bears in 10 fragmented populations, including Italy, Austria and Slovenia. They are endangered in most of Central Europe. The Carpathian (Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania) brown bear population is the largest one in Europe outside Russia, estimated at around 5,0008,000. The Russian population is estimated at 70,000.

Fairly common in the mountainous regions of western Canada and Alaska, where its population may reach 30,000. In the USA, fewer than 1,000 grizzly bears remain. They are also present in Palestine, eastern Siberia and the Himalayan region, possibly the Atlas Mountains of northwest Africa, and Hokkaido (Japan).


Hibernation lasts from around October/December to March/May. In certain southern areas however, hibernation is very short or may not occur at all.

Brown bears mate from May to July with births (2-3 cubs) usually occurring while the female is still in hibernation. Cubs are born blind, naked and weighing only 340 to 680 grams. They usually remain with the mother for 3- 4 years. Although they are sexually mature between 4-6 years of age, the species continues to grow until 10-11 years old. In the wild, brown bears can reach 20 to 30 years of age. Despite this long life expectancy, most brown bears die very early.

Brown bears are omnivorous feeding on fruit, roots, insects, mammals and carrion. In Alaska, grizzlies feed on salmon during the summer.

Issues with humans

It is extremely rare for brown bears to kill or seriously injure humans but fatal encounters do happen. There are an average of two fatal attacks a year in North America. In Scandinavia there are only three known cases during the last 100 years. This has usually happened because the bear is injured or a human encounters a mother bear with cubs.

Brown bears are hunted across much of their range. Some of this is legal hunting on a quota syastem but there is also extensive illegal or mis-managed hunting in many areas. Bear gall bladders remain highly prized for the Asian aphrodisiac market although there is no evidence that products derived from bear parts have medical value.

Other serious threats to bears are habitat destruction and persecution, problems that affect populations to different extents across their range.

Future Outlook

Future threats include hunting and habitat encroachment, such as logging and road construction.

The CITES protects Brown Bears from illegal poaching for paws, trophies and gallbladders.

There are no plans to reintroduce brown bears to Britain.

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