World map
CC BY-SA 3.0


Bears are found in North America, South America, Asia and Europe. The Atlas bear, a subspecies of the brown bear, was the only bear native to Africa and was distributed from Morocco to Libya. It has been extinct since about the 1970s. There are no bears in Australia or Antarctica. 

For up to date and detailed maps of the distribution of each bear species click on the map and then follow the links to the IUCN species pages.

There are eight species of bear alive in the world today.  Most of these are further divided into a number of subspecies.  To find out more about each species click on the photographs or species names below.

NPS Dandelion
Asian Black Bear cubs, Ursus thibetanus in Khao Yai national park
totan travel – Some rights reserved

American black bear (Ursus americanus)

The world’s most common bear species is found in 32 states of the United States, all the provinces and territories of Canada with the exception of Prince Edward Island, and in northern Mexico.  There are 16 recognised subspecies.

Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus)

Found in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Iran, Japan, Korea, the Lao PD, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. There are seven recognised subspecies.

US Fish & Wildlife Service – Steve Hillebrand)
Rob – CC BY 2.0

Brown bear (Ursus arctos)

The most widely distributed of all bears and is widespread in the forests and mountains of North America, Europe and Asia with a relatively large global population that is currently stable. There are 16 recognised of sub-species.

Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanolueca)

Confined to the rainforests of the mountainous regions of the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu.  The Qinling subspecies is found only in the Qinling Mountains, at altitudes of 1,300 to 3,300 metres

Long polar bear
Alan Wilson –
Gaurika Wijeratne - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

Polar bears are found throughout the Arctic and are the only bear species classified as a marine mammal. There are polar bear populations in the territories of Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the USA (Alaska).  There are no subspecies.

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus)

Found in Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan and Nepal, predominantly in lowland areas.  There may still be bears in the wet forests of Bangladesh but this is by no means certain.  There are two recognised subspecies.

Peter Halasz - Creative Commons Licence

Andean (spectacled) bear (Tremarctos ornatus)

Found in the Andean cloud forests at heights of up to 4,300 metres (14,000 feet) in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.  They will descend in search of food and have been observed in steppe lands and coastal deserts. There are no subspecies. 

Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus)

The smallest and rarest of the bear species and confined to the lowland forests of southeast Asia. They have a golden crescent on the chest from which they take their name. They do not hibernate.  There are two recognised subspecies.

Vahe Martirosyan – CC BY-SA 2.0
Paul Frenzeny & Jules Tavernier - Harper’s Weekly, 1876

Extinct brown bears (Ursus arctos)

Three extinct brown bear subspecies have been recognised; the Atlas bear from North Africa, the California golden bear and the Mexican grizzly.  A fourth subspecies, Bergman’s bear (U.a. piscator) from the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula, has been suggested. 


Bears face a number of serious threats, each originating from human beings.  Only by changing human attitudes to bears and their habitats can we begin to address the threats they face in the modern world.

Page updated 18 April 2021