Himalayan brown bear (US Embassy, Pakistan – Creative Commons Licence)

Accepted scientific name:  Ursus arctos isabellinus (Horsfield, 1826)

Description:  A large bear with thick fur which is most often sandy or reddish-brown in colour.  The head is large and the body heavy and the legs stocky.  Males are larger than females, weighing up to 400kg (880lbs) and ranging from 150 to 230 cm in length compared to 137 to 183 cm for the female bears.

Range:  North-western and central Himalaya, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China and Bhutan.  Populations are present in the Great Himalayan National Park (Himachal Pradesh) and the Deosai National Park, Pakistan.  May also be present in south and western Ladakh, in the upper Suru and Zanskar valleys.

Red and blue lines outline the approximate historical range of the Himalayan brown bear and the Tibetan blue or brown bear, respectively. (https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1804 – Lan et al 2017, the Royal Society – Creative Commons Licence)

Habitat:  High altitude open valleys and pastures.  During the summer months the bears move up as high as the snow-line at around 5,500 metres and then descend into the valleys in the autumn.  Himalayan brown bears seem to be arguably the least arboreal of all the bear subspecies.

Status:  The IUCN list Himalayan brown bears as vulnerable, and they are listed under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.

Life span:  20 to 30 years in the wild.

Food:  Omnivorous, eating grasses, root, bulbs and other plants, insects and small mammals such as marmots, pikas and voles.  In the autumn they descend to lower levels to feed on fruits and berries.  They will also take sheep and goats and feed upon carrion when found.

Behaviour:  Himalayan brown bears are diurnal and, except during mating and for mothers with cubs, are solitary.  Mating takes place during May and June with cubs being born in the winter den in December and January.  The bears go into hibernation in a cave or dug-out den around October, emerging in April or May.

Threats:  Habitat loss, killing by livestock herders, and poaching for fur and for the illegal body parts trade.  In Pakistan there are the additional threats of habitat insularisation and bear baiting.  Overall, the population is in decline.



Article by Kirti Chavan, researcher at the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, on “The sense of touch: a hidden skill of Himalayan brown bears” (pdf)

Two videos below on the Himalayan brown bear, the second one on safety in bear country is also by Kirti Chavan.

Public Domain

Page updated 31 January 2022