Ussuri brown bear (captive) (Ozizo, public domain)

Accepted scientific name:  Ursus arctos lasiotus (Gray, 1867).

Description:  Similar to the Kamchatka brown bear (Ursus arctos beringianus) but generally darker in colour with a more elongated skull and less elevated forehead.  Males can be up to twice the size of females ranging in weight from around 200 to 600 kg.

Range:  Heilongjiang Province and the Amur Oblast, Northeast China; five isolated regional populations on Hokkaido, Japan; Ussuri and Amur river region south of the Stanovoy Mountains, Russia (borders with China); Sakhalin Island and Kunashiri, Etorofu and Iturup Islands in the Kuril Islands chain, Russia (immediately north of Hokkaido) and the Shantar Islands, Russia.

Some authorities believe that the bears found on Hokkaido and on Kunashiri and Etorofu Island in the Kuril chain are a separate subspecies, the Hokkaido Brown Bear, (Ursus arctos yesoensis).

Approximate total range of the subpopulations of U.a.lasiotus (NormanEinstein / Bear Conservation – Creative Commons Licence)

Habitat:  Forests, mountainous regions and coastal areas.

Status:  Overall Ursus arctos is classified as of least concern by the IUCN but most if not all of the Ussuri subspecies seem vulnerable and in decline.  Only a few bears remain in North Korea where they are listed as a National Monument and protected.  About 500 to 1,500 are present in Heilongjiang and are classed as a vulnerable species.  On Hokkaido the small western Ishikari subpopulation is listed as an endangered species in Japan’s Red Data Book.In 2015 the Hokkaido local government estimated the total population on the island at 10,600 bears.

Life span:  Unknown but assumed to be around 20 to 30 years in common with other brown bears in the wild.

Food:  The diet of these omnivorous bears varies according to the local availability of foodstuffs and includes nuts, pinenuts, berries, acorns, pine bark and sap, grasses and their rhizomes, lilly and other roots and bulbs.  Meat includes fish, small and sometimes large mammals, birds, larvae, ants and other insects.  Although encounters are rare, Ussuri brown bears will attack Asiatic black bears but fatalities have not been recorded.  Undoubtedly black bears will be eaten as carrion if found.  Ussuri brown bears will feed on Amur (Siberian) tiger kills and are themselves a prey animal of the tigers.

There is evidence to suggest that, in Japan at least, U a lasiotus is moving towards a largely herbivorous diet (see “More Information” below).

Behaviour:. The bears den in the winter, mainly in excavated burrows or within rock outcrops but also in nests built on the ground.  They are solitary except during mating and when with cubs.  Cubs are born in the winter den and will 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:  Legal hunting in Russia and Japan and poaching across the range.  The illegal body parts trade, some animals may be taken for use in bear-baiting, loss of habitat and associated human conflict particularly in Hokkaido, Japan.


Why Japan’s brown bears shifted toward a vegetarian diet

Page updated 16 February 2021