Marsican brown bear (captive animal “Sandrino”) (Marco Tersigni – Creative Commons Licence)

Accepted scientific name: Ursus arctos marsicanus  (Altobello, 1921) (Note that not all authorities recognise this as a subspecies.)

Description:   Males weigh up to around 220kg and females to around 160 kg.  Males are approximately two metres in length, the females shorter.  The ears are short rounded ears, the fur usually dark brown but sometimes a golden beige.

Range:  A 5,000 to 8,000 square kilometre area in the Appenine Mountains of Italy, mainly in the Abruzzo-Lazio-Molise National Park and surrounding area.  The park was created in 1923 specifically to protect these bears.

The changing distribution of the Marsican brown bear: (a)1800 distribution; (b)1900 distribution; (c)1993 distribution; (d) projected 2000 distribution. (Rauer et al 1999 Brown Bear Conservation Action Plan for Europe distribution Italy)

Habitat:  Elevations above 800 metres and up to 1700 metres, predominantly in forested areas, mixed, broadleaf and coniferous but particularly beechwood.  Also found in grasslands and at lower-altitudes in oak woods and orchard.

Status: With only 40 to 60 individuals remaining this bear is critically endangered.  Listed in Criteria D of the IUCN European Mammal Assessment, in CITES Appendix II, as endangered by the European Community and in the Italian World Wildlife Fund red list.  Protected in Italian law.

Life span:  Around 20 to 25 years in the wild although cub mortality is around fifty percent.  In captivity bears have been recorded as surviving in excess of 30 years.

Food:  The majority of the Marsican brown bear’s diet consists of tubers, roots, fungi, fruits and berries.  They also eat insects, honey, eggs and carrion.  They will also sometimes take small or medium sized mammals including sheep and cattle.

Behaviour:   Mainly nocturnal and, except during mating and when with cubs, the bears appear to be solitary.  Mating usually occurs between May and July.  Typically the bears will spend the winter months in a rock cavity or will dig out a burrow den.  Gestation is normally around six months with birth taking place in the den in December or January, typically of twins.  The cubs remain with the mother for two to three years during which time she will not become pregnant again.  Females are sexually mature at around three years of age.

Threats:  Historically habitat loss and fragmentation but the single greatest threat now comes from human-induced mortality with the bears seen as a threat by local inhabitants both to themselves and to their cattle.


Salviamo l’Orso is an association of volunteers working to save the Marsican brown bear from extinction; needs and deserves your support.

Life Arctos Project summary

Life Arctos Project website

The Apennine brown bear: A critical review of its status and conservation problems

These Italian bears survived gladiators and Mussolini podcast by Chris Morgan (posted 14 May 2019, 30 minutes long) (opens in new window)

 See below for Chris Morgan’s short video on the bears’ habitat: “Two Hours From Rome”









Page updated 18 February 2021