Eurasian brown bear in Finland (Copyright Bear Photo – used with permission )
Accepted scientific name: Ursus arctos arctos (Carl Linnaeus, 1758)
Description: Ranging from almost black to near-white the fur is more usually brown and is fairly dense. The head is quite round and the skull is wide. Paws and claws are large and males typically weigh between 265 and 355 kg (583–780 lb). Females range between around 100 and 250 kg. The largest Eurasian brown bear recorded weighed 481 kg and was almost 2.5 metres in length.
Range: Found in northern Eurasia. There are believed to be over 100,000 brown bears in Russia, about 36,000 of which are in in European Russia. Elsewhere in Europe there are a total of around 17,000 brown bears, around 5,000 to 6,000 of these being found in the Carpathian Mountains area of Romania, the largest single population outside Russia.
The remaining distribution is scattered and disconnected with small populations in the Spanish/French Pyrenees (around 43 bears), the Cantabrian Mountains in Spain (around 230 to 300 bears – in 2018 some 330 bears were counted in the mountains, according to the environmentalist foundation Oso Pardo), and the Alps in Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia (around 50 bears in total). There are an estimated 40 to 60 Marsican brown bears in the Apennine Mountains in Italy. Some of these populations may be too small to be sustainable. In Scandinavia the population is connected to the very large population of Russia. The population in the Balkans, mainly in Croatia and Slovenia, is relatively large but disconnected from the major population of Europe.
Brown bear distribution in Europe 2006-2011. Dark cells: permanent occurrence, Grey cells: sporadic occurrence. Red borders mark countries for which information was available. Source: Kaczensky, P., Chapron, G., von Arx, M., Huber, D., Andrén, H., and Linnell, J. 2013. Status, management and distribution of large carnivores – bear, lynx, wolf & wolverine – in Europe. Part 1 – Europe summaries. Report: 1-72. A Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe Report prepared for the European Commission.
Habitat: European populations are now restricted mainly to mountain woodland areas.
Status: Brown bears are listed as “of least concern” by the IUCN and listed in CITES Appendix II but are endangered in much of Europe with the small, isolated populations in southern Europe especially at risk.
Life span: 20 to 30 years in the wild.
Food: The bears are omnivorous and feed on fruits, seeds, roots, insects, fish, mammals and carrion.
Behaviour: The bears reach sexual maturity between the ages of three and six years. Mating occurs between May and July. The bears go into winter dens usually in October, November or early December and emerge in March, April or May. Cubs are born in the den in January and February, litters usually being of two or three cubs but can be of one or four. They will remain with the mother for two to three years during which time she will not become pregnant again. Except for mating and for mothers with cubs, brown bears are solitary.
Threats: Hunting, habitat loss and conflict with humans (particularly due to the clear-cutting of forests), and, increasingly, poaching on a commercial scale to obtain gall bladders and other body parts for use in medicine.
Living with carnivores in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains – article published 14 April 2020.
The population of brown bears in Spain’s Cantabrian Mountains is one of the most isolated and endangered in the world. The video below introduces and explains the first ever telemetry project to study subadult dispersal in this population. The project is funded by the Bear Conservation Fund. You can read more about the fund and donate here.
Page updated 23 February 2021