Ursus arctos 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Ursidae

Scientific Name: Ursus arctos Linnaeus, 1758
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Brown Bear, Grizzly Bear
French Ours brun
Spanish Oso Pardo

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-02-02
Assessor(s): McLellan, B.N., Proctor, M.F., Huber, D. & Michel, S.
Reviewer(s): Garshelis, D.L.
Contributor(s): Ambarli, H., Ararat, K., Aryal, A., Badamjav, L., Batmunkh, M., Can, O., Davletbakov, A., Esipov, A., Galbreath, G., Ghaemi, R., Gong, J., Gutleb, B., Han, S., Harris, R., Kaczensky, P., Kubanichbek, J., Lortkipanidze, B., Lukarevskiy, V., Mano, T., Moheb, Z., Nawaz, M.A., Oromov, B., Paczkowski, J., Puchkovskiy, S., Reynolds, H., Saidov, A., Sathyakumar, S., Sato, Y., Seryodkin, I., Tserenbataa, T., Tsuruga, H., Vaisfeld, M. & Xu, A.

The range of the Brown Bear has historically declined in North America, Europe, and Asia, and the species has been extirpated in North Africa. However, it remains widespread across three continents, and is still one of the world’s most widely distributed terrestrial mammals. Globally the population remains large, and is not significantly declining and may be increasing in some areas (Swenson et al. 1998, Schwartz et al. 2006, Mace et al. 2012, Kaczensky et al. 2013, Chapron et al. 2014). There are many small, isolated subpopulations that are in jeopardy of extirpation, but others, under more protection and management, are expanding.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Brown Bear is the most widely distributed ursid. It once ranged across a large portion of western North America, including northern Mexico. There is also some evidence of sporadic occurrence (after retreat of the Wisconsin ice sheet) within the eastern half of the continent (Guilday 1968). Populations on the Ungava Peninsula may have extended to the Atlantic Ocean (Loring and Spiess 2007). They also ranged throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and across North Africa. A history of prolonged overexploitation in Europe stretching back centuries resulted in the elimination of brown bears from many countries. The date of their extirpation from North Africa is uncertain, but they may have existed as late as the 1500s in the Sinai of Egypt (Manlius 1998) and mid-1800s in Algeria and Morocco (Hamdine et al. 1998). During the 20th century, Brown Bears (called Grizzly Bears in interior North America) were intentionally extirpated in Mexico (≈1960), a large portion of southwestern U.S. (Brown 1985, Mattson and Merrill 2002), and most of the Canadian prairies. Bears have been rare in the Middle East throughout the 1900s, and were believed to have been extirpated by the mid-1950s; however, recent sightings of tracks and a photo of a bear in western Syria, near the Lebanon border, suggests either a relict subpopulation, vagrants from Turkey, or released captive animals  (Garshelis et al. 2015).

Presently, Brown Bears occupy approximately 5,000,000 km² of the northwestern portion of North America, 1,200,000 km² of Europe (excluding Russia), and much of northern Asia. Resident populations are known to exist in 45 range countries. The largest numbers exist in Russia, the U.S. (Alaska), and Canada. Many populations in Europe and the more southerly portions of Asia and North America are small and isolated (Servheen et al. 1999, Swenson et al. 2000, Kaczensky et al. 2013). Very small numbers of Brown Bears still remain in several Asian countries such as Iraq and Nepal (Gurung 2004, Ridings 2006, Aryal et al. 2012). In Europe, Andorra was reoccupied in 2003 from bears reintroduced into the French Pyrenees. A few wandering individuals are periodically crossing into Switzerland from a reintroduced population in northern Italy, and into Lithuania from Latvia and Belarus, but not enough as yet to be considered as occupied range in these countries.

Countries occurrence:
Afghanistan; Albania; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Canada; China; Croatia; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Greece; India; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Nepal; Norway; Pakistan; Poland; Romania; Russian Federation; Serbia; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Tajikistan; Turkey; Ukraine; United States; Uzbekistan
Possibly extinct:
Regionally extinct:
Algeria; Belgium; Denmark; Egypt; Germany; Hungary; Ireland; Israel; Jordan; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Mexico; Moldova; Monaco; Morocco; Netherlands; Palestinian Territory, Occupied; Portugal; San Marino; Tunisia; United Kingdom
Present - origin uncertain:
Lebanon; Syrian Arab Republic
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:24000000
Number of Locations:44
Upper elevation limit (metres):5000
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


The total number of Brown Bears on earth is estimated to exceed 200,000. Reliable population estimates (derived mainly from mark-recapture or resight, and modifications thereof) exist for several areas in North America and Europe (Miller et al. 1997, Swenson et al. 2000, Bellemain et al. 2005, Mowat et al. 2005, Proctor et al. 2010, 2012, Mowat et al. 2013), but few areas in Asia. Russia has the largest number of Brown Bears, believed to exceed 100,000, while estimates in the U.S. (mainly in Alaska) are around 33,000, Canada 25,000, and Europe (excluding Russia) 15,400. Whereas the species is relatively abundant in more northern parts of its distribution, the southern portions of the range are highly fragmented, with many small subpopulations. In North America, the southern fringe has isolated subpopulations ranging in size from near 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park (Haroldson et al. 2013) to approximately 25 individuals in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana (Proctor et al. 2004, Kendall et al. 2016) and even less, likely <10 bears, in some southern areas of British Columbia.

In Europe, Brown Bears occur in 22 countries. Based on the existing data on distribution, as well as a range of geographical, ecological, social and political factors these can be clustered into 10 subpopulations (Chapron et al. 2014): Scandinavian, Karelian, Baltic, Carpathian, Dinaric-Pindos, Eastern Balkan, Alpine, Abruzzo, Cantabrian, and Pyrenean. Based on reported and updated census data, the largest population is the Carpathian population (>8,000 bears), followed by the Scandinavian and Dinaric-Pindos populations (> 3,400 and 3,040 bears, respectively). The other subpopulations are much smaller ranging from several hundred (e.g., Baltic ~700, Cantabrian ~200) to less than one hundred (e.g. Alps ~37 bears). Compared to the last survey, which included data up to 2005 (Bear Online Information System for Europe, BOIS), the Scandinavian, Dinaric-Pindos, and Cantabrian populations have recorded a clear increase. The other populations remained stable. The perceived decrease in the Eastern Balkan subpopulation is likely due to new monitoring techniques. All subpopulation ranges have been relatively stable or slightly expanding. In the Alpine subpopulation the loss of the central Austrian segment in the last decade was counter-balanced by the expansion of the north Italian segment in Trentino, due to translocations from Slovenia. The Pyrenean subpopulation also grew because of translocations from Slovenia (Kaczensky et al. 2013).

Small subpopulations of Brown Bears are also scattered across many portions of Asia, but relatively little is known of numbers or degree of connectivity. In Pakistan there are an estimated 15-30 animals in an isolated subpopulation in the Hindu Kush Range (M. A. Nawaz pers. comm., 2014). Another 130–220 bears are estimated to occur in what is thought to be an isolated subpopulation in the Himalaya Mountains of Pakistan and India (Sathyakumar et al. 2012, Abbas et al. 2015). There is another subpopulation of bears in the Karakoram-Pamir Mountains of Pakistan and these are likely joined across the Wakhan corridor and the Pamirs of Afghanistan, west of the Taklimakan Desert to the Hissaro-Alai and Pamirs population in southern Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In China, Brown Bears exist in sparse, poorly defined populations in the west and also in the northeast, with guesstimates of ~6,000 and ~1,000 in each of these regions, respectively (Gong and Harris 2006). Three GPS-collared bears in the Sanjiangyuan Region of Tibet, two male and one female with cubs, had home ranges of >7,000 km² and 2,200 km² respectively; these expansive home ranges suggest connectivity (but low density) within the dry, high mountains and plateaus of Tibet. A much more dense population on Hokkaido, Japan may have 2,200 or more Brown Bears, although even there, where significant information has been collected through research and sport harvest returns, reliable population estimates are not available (Mano 2006). There appears to be several isolated subpopulations in the Middle East including bears in the Elburz and Zagros Mountains of Iran and bordering areas in Iraq (Kurdistan), and what is thought to be several isolated subpopulations in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. Perhaps the most isolated Brown Bear population in Asia is found in the Gobi desert of southern Mongolia and along the northern China border (currently 21‒29 bears; Tumendemberel et al. 2015).

In total, 44 subpopulations of Brown Bear have been identified globally; most occur in the southern portions of their circumpolar distribution across the northern hemisphere. Because many of these subpopulations are small, isolated, and in need of conservation attention, they have been assessed individually using the IUCN Red List Criteria for isolated subpopulations following the guidance of Gärdenfors et al. (2001) and IUCN (2012) (see the Supplementary Material attached to this document).

For further information about this species, see 41688_Ursus_arctos.pdf.
A PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader is required.
Current Population Trend:Stable
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:110000
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Brown Bears occupy a great variety of habitats from dry Asian steppes to Arctic shrublands to temperate rain forests. Their range overlaps that of both the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) and Asiatic Black Bear (U. thibetanus), and also slightly that of the Polar Bear (U. maritimus). Elevationally they range from sea level to 5,000 m (Sathyakumar 2006). They occupy a greater diversity of habitats than any other species of bear and also exploit a large variety of food items. In terms of diet, they fall between the mainly plant-dependent ursids and the carnivorous polar bear (Mattson 1998, Sacco and Van Valkenburgh 2004). In North America, Brown Bears (Grizzly Bears) are more carnivorous where ungulates (especially in Arctic areas) or spawning salmon (coastal areas) are abundant (Mowat and Heard 2006). The productivity and density of brown bears varies enormously, corresponding with the productivity of their habitats and availability of salmon. Coastal areas of North America and Eastern Russia, with concentrations of spawning salmon, have high densities (>100 bears per 1,000 km²) of Brown Bears (Miller et al. 1997, Seryodkin 2006) with high reproductive rates (Hilderbrand et al. 1999). Deciduous and mixed forests of the Dinaric and Carpathian mountain ranges of Eastern Europe also host high bear densities with high reproductive rates (Kusak and Huber 1998, Frković et al. 2001). More moderate densities of bears (20-50 bears per 1,000 km²) occur across the interior mountain ranges of North America (McLellan 1994, Schwartz et al. 2003, McLellan 2011), Europe, and Asia where they forage on a great variety of grasses, herbs, roots, berries, nuts, as well as animal matter such as insects, mammals, and fish if available. Moderate densities of bears are also found across portions of the boreal forests of North American, Asia and Scandinavia (Bellemain et al. 2005). Lower densities (5‒15 bears per 1,000 km²) are found in dry, desert-like areas, alpine and sub-alpine areas, as well as areas where habitat availability and numbers of bears have been reduced by high human and domestic livestock densities (Nawaz 2007); however, in most of these areas (e.g., northern India, western China) density estimates are not available.

Breeding occurs during April to July but implantation of the blastocyst is delayed until late autumn. Cubs, usually in litters of 1 to 3 (rarely 4 or 5), are born in January or early February when the mother is hibernating. In North America, female bears generally have their first litters at 5 to 8 years of age and have litters every three or four years thereafter (Schwartz et al. 2003). In some areas of Europe, however, females generally have their first litter at least one year earlier, and produce litters every two years (Swenson et al. 2000, Frković et al. 2001). At the other extreme, brown bears in northern Pakistan produced litters that average only 1.3 cubs every 5.7 years, on average (Nawaz et al. 2008).


Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

Where Brown Bears exist in a large, contiguous population, they are sometimes hunted for sport or killed for control purposes, and rates may sometimes be unsustainable at least over the short term (Lamb et al. submitted, McLellan 2015, McLellan et al. submitted). Estimates of sustainable exploitation are hampered by the difficulty and expense of obtaining reliable estimates of population size, natural mortality, and reproductive rates. Most countries do not have the resources to develop and implement adequate monitoring programs and sustainable management plans for Brown Bears. Moreover, even with such plans in place, illegal or unreported kill may equal or exceed the legal and supposedly sustainable kill (McLellan et al. 1999, McLellan 2015). This is apparently occurring in the Russian Far East and China, where brown bears are poached for the commercial trade in gall bladders and paws (Seryodkin 2006, Servheen 2013, Burgess et al. 2014). In portions of Alaska, the management goal is to reduce bear populations to encourage Moose and Caribou populations to expand for the benefit of hunters (Miller et al. 2011).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Although, as a whole, this species is secure with relatively large numbers and an expansive range, many small, isolated subpopulations are threatened due to their low numbers and frequent contact with humans. These small subpopulations tend to be found in remnant wild areas surrounded by more extensive human development. As wide-ranging omnivores, Brown Bears are attracted to areas with available human-related foods; being large and somewhat aggressive, these bears may threaten life and property (often agricultural products) and may be killed as a consequence. Areas of high human use that attract bears may serve as significant mortality sinks (Nielsen et al. 2004, 2006). Additionally, bears living near humans may be killed inadvertently (e.g., vehicle or train collisions), poached for parts or products, or killed by people hunting for other species. Even small numbers of bears removed from small subpopulations can have adverse effects on population growth (Wakkinen and Kasworm 2004); conversely, preventing just a few deaths may avert a population decline (Wiegand et al. 1998, Garshelis et al. 2005). Where Brown Bears exist in a large, contiguous population, they are sometimes hunted for sport or killed for control purposes, and rates may sometimes be unsustainable at least over the short term (Lamb et al. submitted, McLellan 2015, McLellan et al. submitted). Estimates of sustainable exploitation are hampered by the difficulty and expense of obtaining reliable estimates of population size, natural mortality, and reproductive rates. Most countries do not have the resources to develop and implement adequate monitoring programs and sustainable management plans for Brown Bears. Moreover, even with such plans in place, illegal or unreported kill may equal or exceed the legal and supposedly sustainable kill (McLellan et al. 1999, McLellan 2015). This is apparently occurring in the Russian Far East, where Brown Bears are poached for the commercial trade in gall bladders and paws (Seryodkin 2006). In portions of Alaska, the management goal is to reduce bear populations to encourage Moose and Caribou populations to expand for the benefit of hunters (Miller et al. 2011). In addition to direct removal of Brown Bears, many other human activities (such as agriculture, plantation forestry, highways, hydroelectric and wind power developments, and human settlements) eliminate, fragment, or erode the value of bear habitat (Proctor et al. 2005, Waller and Servheen 2005, Proctor et al. 2012). Habitat fragmentation is a serious threat that isolates population units with deleterious demographic and genetic impacts (Proctor et al. 2005, 2012). With increasing human populations, the value of Brown Bear habitat is being degraded in many areas (e.g., Can and Togan 2004, Nawaz 2007), while in other areas (i.e., Turkey), fewer people are now living in rural areas and conditions are improving for Brown Bears.

In Europe, four of ten subpopulations are Critically Endangered. However, the current public interest, financial investment and management actions, seem to presently secure most populations at least for their short to midterm survival. Portions of subpopulations in some countries are less secure due to lower local acceptance and correspondingly high human-caused mortality rates. Almost half of the subpopulations are currently growing, but to guarantee long-term survival, all present and potential future threats must be kept in check. The key threats for bears in Europe were identified as: habitat loss due to infrastructure development, disturbance, low acceptance, poor management structures, intrinsic factors, accidental mortality and persecution. Most threats were expected to increase in the future (Kaczensky et al. 2013).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

Conservation actions for Brown Bears vary greatly among nations and regions within nations. Large populations of this species (in Russia, Japan, Canada, Alaska, and parts of eastern and northern Europe) are legally hunted, and thus managed as a game animal. Hunting regulations, usually designed to ensure a sustainable harvest of bears, vary among areas but often involve a lottery for a limited number of permits (a quota system) and restricted season length. Most small populations are protected by national laws and international agreements, with varying degrees of enforcement. Brown Bear as a species is listed under CITES Appendix II; the populations in Bhutan (if they exist), China, and Mongolia, and those classified as the subspecies Ursus arctos isabellinus (northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, to Kazakhstan and Gobi desert) are listed under Appendix I. Furthermore, international trade in bears and bear products from certain populations in countries of the European Union is restricted by EU regulations. In parts of the U.S., small populations of Grizzly Bears have increased under protection of the Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2005). Reintroductions, population augmentations, and connectivity management also have helped to restore numbers and geographic range in several locations in the U.S., southern Canada, and Western Europe (Clark et al. 2002, Kasworm et al. 2007). There are numerous protected areas around the world with Brown Bears, but few are large enough to support a viable population; therefore, Brown Bear conservation must be integrated with many other human land-uses (Herrero 1994, Nielsen et al. 2006). Some countries have rules or management guidelines designed to reduce human impacts on Brown Bears and their habitat, whereas in other countries bear management protocols and regulations are limited or non-existent (Servheen et al. 1999, Zedrosser et al. 2001, Kaczensky et al. 2013).

In Europe most of the bear populations are protected by the Habitat Directive (Habitat Directive; which is compulsory for all EU countries. Portions of populations that fall within EU countries are not allowed to be classified as game animals.  However, Sweden, Finland, Romania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia currently use derogations under article 16 of the Habitat Directive to allow a limited kill of bears by hunters. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Norway manage bears as a game species with annual quotas as they are only limited by the Bern Convention. Trophy hunting of bears enhances local acceptance of these animals by the public in some populations (Knott et al. 2013). Nearly all European countries have some form of bear management plan, action plan or bear management strategy. However, in a number of countries these documents have not been adequately implemented.

Amended [top]

Amended reason: The coding of the species' presence in Andorra, Austria, Czech Republic, and Turkmenistan was changed from "Certain" to "Uncertain" as bears are only occasionally present in these countries; likewise the presence in Switzerland was changed from "Reintroduced" to "Uncertain". Minor corrections have also been made to the text capitalizing the common names of species and correcting "population" to "subpopulation".

Citation: McLellan, B.N., Proctor, M.F., Huber, D. & Michel, S. 2017. Ursus arctos (amended version of 2017 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T41688A121229971. . Downloaded on 20 September 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided