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Brown bear rearing
The Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) is a species of bear that can reach weights of 130–700 kg (300–1500 pounds). The grizzly bear (Ursus Horribilis), the Kodiak bear and the Mexican brown bear are North American subspecies of the brown bear. It is sometimes referred to poetically as the bruin.
Brown bears have coats in shades of blonde, brown, black, or a combination of those colors; the long outer guard hairs are often tipped with white or silver, giving a "grizzled" appearance. Brown bears have a large hump of muscle over their shoulders which give strength to the forelimbs for digging. Their forearms end in massive paws tipped with extremely powerful claws that can be up to 6 inches in length. Unlike the claws of other large predatory animals, such as lions or tigers, the claws are not retractable. This gives the claws a dull edge when compared to other predators. The Brown Bear possesses tremendous power: a large specimen can break a bison's spine with one blow of its powerful forepaw. Despite the relatively dull edges to their claws, the sheer force of a blow from a large specimen is devastating. Their heads are large and round with a concave facial profile. In spite of their size, some have been clocked at speeds in excess of 35 MPH. Along with their strength and deceptive speed, Brown Bears are legendary for their physical stamina. They are capable of running at full speed for miles at a time without stopping. The largest subspecies of the brown bear is the Kodiak bear and Alaskan Coastal bear. It is not uncommon for a large male Kodiak to stand 10 feet in height while on its hind legs, and weigh over 680 kg (1,500 lb). The tallest bears have been known to reach heights of 13 feet. The largest bear ever recorded was a Kodiak that weighed over 1134 kg (2500 lb) that was brought to the Berlin Zoo directly from Kodiak Island. Bears of this size weigh near 1500 kg (3307 lb) in the zoo, due to regular feeding.
Once native to Asia, Africa, Europe and North America,  brown bears are now extinct in some areas and have had their numbers greatly reduced in others. They prefer semi-open country, usually in mountainous areas. The brown bear ranges from Alaska east through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, south through British Columbia and through the western half of Alberta. Isolated populations exist in northwestern Washington, northern Idaho, western Montana, and northwestern Wyoming.
- The subspecies U. arctos horribilis (the Grizzly Bear) is the common brown bear of continental North America;
- The subspecies U. arctos middendorffi (Kodiak bear) includes bears on the Alaskan islands of Kodiak Island, Afognak Island, and Shuyak Island.
- The range of the subspecies U. arctos nelsoni is in northern Mexico.
- In Asia, the Himalayan Brown Bear (U. arctos isabellinus) is found in the foothills of the Himalaya,
- and the Higuma or Hokkaido brown bear (U. arctos yesoensis) is found on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
It is not known how long Ursus arctos has existed in North America. While there were certainly some there during the last part of the Ice Age, it is thought that the brown bear was not the dominant carnivore at the time. That role belonged to the far larger, taller, and stronger Giant Short Faced Bear, aka Bulldog Bear, which was almost certainly dominant when the two animals met. The Giant Short Faced Bear was adapted for fast running and meat from rather large animals was the main part of its diet, in contrast to the Grizzly or Brown Bear, which has teeth adapted to an omnivorous diet. The Giant Short Faced Bear, on average, weighed twice as much as the Grizzly, despite some exceptional Grizzly Bears in the later Old West that were recorded to have grown to 800 kilograms or so.
Ursus arctos also shared the land with the American Lion and Sabertooth, both apparently also dependent on large animals for food. But the Grizzly could eat plant food, insects, carrion, small animals of all kinds, and large mammals if needed, in contrast to the far more restricted food menu available to the giant cats and the Giant Short Faced Bear. This made the other big carnivores very vulnerable to starvation if the supply of available large mammals gave out, which eventually happened through hunting by humans.
For whatever reason the Ice Age herbivorous megafauna became extinct; the Sabertooth, American Lion, and Short Faced Bear could no longer find enough suitable food, and faded into extinction, leaving the Brown Bear alone as top North American predator, with wolves, the jaguar in the south, the black bear, and puma also competing for large prey. It is not known precisely how long humans have lived in America, but the biggest human emigration there was about the time of the last Ice Age period, when the Paleo-Indians showed up. These people brought with them the Clovis Point and advanced hunting techniques. If these people were responsible for wiping out the Ice Age herbivore megafauna, it can be argued that Ursus arctos benefited in numbers and range by the extinction of the competing predators.
There are estimated to be about 200,000 brown bears in the world. The largest populations are in Russia, with 120,000, United States, with 32,500, and Canada with 21,750. Ninety-five percent of the population in the United States is in Alaska, though slowly in the West the bears seem to be repopulating along the Rockies and plains. In Europe, there are 14,000 brown bears in ten separate fragmented populations, from Spain to Russia and north into Scandinavia. They are extinct in the British Isles, extremely threatened or extirpated in France and in trouble over most of Central Europe. A brown bear is Finland`s national animal.The Carpathian brown bear population is the largest one in Europe outside Russia, estimated at 4,500 to 5,000 bears .
In one respect the potential habitat of the Brown bear has been increasing. The warming of the Arctic region has allowed the species to move farther and farther north into what was once exclusively the domain of the Polar bear.
The brown bear is primarily nocturnal and, in the summer, puts on up to 180 kg (400 pounds) of fat, on which it relies to make it through winter, when it becomes very lethargic. Although they are not true hibernators and can be woken easily, they like to den in a protected spot such as a cave, crevice, or hollow log during the winter months.
They are omnivores and feed on a variety of plant parts, including berries, roots, and sprouts; fungi; and fish, insects, and small mammals. Contrary to popular mythology, brown bears are not particularly carnivorous; they derive up to three-quarters of their dietary food energy from vegetable matter. Interestingly, bears eat an enormous number of moths during the summer (sometimes as many as 20,000 to 40,000 in a day) and may derive up to a third of their food energy from these insects. They also occasionally prey on deer (Odocoeilus spp.; Dama spp., Capreolus spp.), red deer (Cervus elaphus spp., or American elk), moose (Alces spp.) and wild boar (Sus scrofa).
Brown bears have also been found stealing the kills of tigers, wolves, and pumas. Two male tigers were found killed by brown bears in the year 2000.
Normally a solitary animal, the brown bear congregates alongside streams and rivers during the salmon spawn in the fall. Every other year females produce one to four young, which weigh only about 2 to 5 kg (1 to 2 lb) at birth. Raised entirely by their mother, the cubs are taught to climb trees at the sign of danger.
Habituation to human areas
A fed bear is a dead bear -- bears are transported when possible, but repeat offenders may be killed, when they have associated humans with food sources.
With the encroachment of humans into bear habitat, bears may become attracted to human-related food sources such as garbage dumps, litter bins, dumpsters, and so on, and may even venture into human dwellings or barns in search of food. In the U.S., it is not unheard of for a bear to kill and eat farm animals. Once a bear comes to associate human activity with a 'food reward', a bear is likely to continue to become emboldened in its quest for food and human/bear encounters become more likely. There is a saying, "a fed bear is a dead bear", which has come into use to popularize the idea that allowing bears to scavenge human garbage, pet food, or other food sources that draw the bear into contact with humans can result in disaster—for the bear.
Though bears have been relocated to areas distant from human populations, some bears become 'hooked' on a given food source and will return to the same location. Bears that have repeatedly returned to a given area, and thus have become perceived as dangerous, are sometimes killed to prevent human injuries or death.
Yellowstone National Park, an enormous reserve located in the Western United States, contains prime habitat for the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), as well as other Brown Bears, but due to the enormous number of visitors, human-bear encounters are not rare. The scenic beauty of the area has caused an influx of people moving into the area. In addition, because there are so many bear relocations to the same remote areas of Yellowstone, and because male bears tend to dominate the center of the relocation zone, female bears tend to be pushed to the boundaries of the region and beyond. The result is that a large proportion of repeat offender bears—bears that are destroyed for the public safety—are females. This creates a further depressive effect on an already endangered species (the Grizzly Bear is officialy described as threatened in the U.S). Though the problem is most significant with regard to Grizzlies, these issues affect the other types of Brown Bear as well.
In Europe, part of the problem lies with shepherds: Over the past two centuries, many sheep and goat herders have gradually abandoned the more traditional practice of using dogs to guard flocks (which have concurrently grown larger.) Typically they allow the herds to graze freely over sizeable tracts of land. As bears reclaim parts of their range, they may take livestock as a means of survival. The shepherd is forced to shoot the bear to protect his livelihood, the community goes up in arms, and often the bears pay the price.
The subspecies of brown bears have been listed as follows; however, there is little agreement on classification:-
- Ursus arctos arctos — European brown bear
- Ursus arctos californicus — golden bear (extinct)
- Ursus arctos horribilis — grizzly bear, Canada & United States
- Ursus arctos isabellinus — Himalayan Brown Bear, Nepal
- Ursus arctos middlendorffi — Kodiak bear, Alaska
- Ursus arctos nelsoni — Mexican grizzly bear, (extinct?)
- Ursus arctos pruinosus — Tibetan blue bear, Western China
- Ursus arctos yesoensis — Hokkaido bear, Japan
- Ursus arctos beringianus — Siberian Brown bear, Siberia
- Ursus arctos siryacus — Sirian Brown bear, Syria
The grizzly bear (sometimes called the silvertip bear) is listed as threatened in the contiguous United States. It is currently slowly repopulating areas where it was previously extirpated, though it is still vulnerable.
- The golden bear disappeared from the state of California in 1922 when the last one was shot in Tulare County, California. It can be seen on the state flag of California and as the mascot of the sports teams of the University of California, Berkeley.
- The Mexican grizzly bear is listed as endangered and may be extinct.
- The grizzly bear is state listed as threatened in the lower 48 states in the United States. In Canada, it is listed as vulnerable in Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and Yukon Territory. Prairie populations of grizzly bear are listed as extirpated in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
It is extremely rare that brown bears kill or seriously injure humans but fatal encounters do happen. There are an average of two fatal attacks a year in North America.1 In Scandinavia there are only three known cases during the last 100 years where humans have been killed by bears. This has usually happened because the bear is injured or a human encounters a mother bear with cubs. Some types of bears such as polar bears, are more likely to attack humans when searching for food while black bears are much less likely to attack.
The Scandinavian Bear Research project lists the following situations as potentially dangerous:
- Meeting an injured bear
- A human suddenly appearing between a mother and her cubs
- Meeting a bear in its cave
- Meeting a bear who has been provoked by a dog
A careful person should always try to avoid these situations. Anybody who walks in a forest where there are bears could carry around a bell since a brown bear's natural instinct is to run away from humans; in groups trail songs are also effective. If camping, do not bring food into the tent and be sure to clean up all garbage-a bear thinks with its stomach. If one still meets a bear it is important to remain calm and to slowly walk in the opposite direction. A running human may trigger the bear's chasing instinct and typically a running bear can outrun a human adult. It is important not to make threatening moves, not to make eye contact nor to shout.
If a brown bear attacks and it is not possible to get away, the person should lie down in a fetal position and put his/her hands around the head to protect from bites. Do not panic.
Other bear encounters
Black bears, which attacks to kill and to eat, require a different technique. For black bears, the person should huddle together if in a group, raise hands or backpack in the air to appear bigger, as well as make lots of noise. There is a good chance of scaring away the black bear. If it attacks anyway, fight back. Black bears will often disengage if injured. The best defense, however, is to make plenty of noise in areas with bears to scare them away before an encounter.
Note 1: Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, Stephen Herrero, revised edition, 2002.