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< > DISTRIBUTION & MOVEMENT with literature reports for the Brown bear - Ursus arctos: Use sub-contents list below, or simply scroll down the page to view findings.

HABITAT & RANGE - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

(Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Ursus arctos - Brown bear)


  • Brown bears have a holarctic distribution, being found in both North America and Eurasia within the coniferous and deciduous forest zones, except for eastern North America, lowland China and most of western Europe (where they have been exterminated). 
  • Movements are strongly associated with food availability. Brown bears may make seasonal movements associated with food resources, with bears of some populations moving hundreds of kilometres.

Maps of their range are provided in B442 - Bears. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan - Chapters 5, 6 and 7 [full text provided]


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Native Distribution

Source Information

Holarctic. (B421.w1)

  • Eurasia north of the Himalayas, and northern America. (B51)
  • Formerly, north-western Africa, throughout the Palearctic from Western Europe, and the Near and Middle East through northern Himalayas to western and northern China and Chukot (Russia), also Hokkaido (Japan) and in western North America, north from northern Mexico. (B141)
  • The coniferous and deciduous forest zones, except for eastern North America, lowland China, most of western Europe (exterminated). In western Europe, there is a fragmented population (Cantabria, Pyrenees, Italian Alps, Abruzzi and Scandinavia). (B421.w1)
  • Originally found over the whole of temperate Asia, Europe and North America. (B392.8.w8)
  • Originally these bears were present over much of the Northern Hemisphere including through all of Europe. In western Europe, remaining populations are found in Scandinavia and in four southern European areas (Cantabria, Pyrenees, Italian Alps, Abruzzo). In the [former] USSR they are more abundant. [1978](B422.w14)
  • Northwestern North America, Europe and Asia (from Scandinavia through Russia to Japan in the north, more scattered in southern and eastern Europe), the middle East, Himalayas, China and Mongolia. (B285.w4)
  • In North America: from Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories, through most of British Columbia and western Alberta, to southcentral Nevada. (B180.w3)
  • North America and Eurasia. (D243)
    • Historically most of western and central North America, Arctic Ocean to central Mexico. (D243)
    • In Alaska, the distribution is almost unchanged. (D243)
    • In Canada, Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta, formerly also on the prairies.
    • In the USA south of Canada: six separate populations in Washington state, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
    • In Mexico, eliminated in the 1960s, possibly a few may remain in northern Mexico. (D243)
    • Finland: numbers may be increasing. (D243)
    • Norway: fragmented, with 17 subpopulations. (D243)
    • Sweden: central and northern areas contiguous with Norway. (D243)
    • France: two populations in the Pyrenees. (D243)
    • Greece: two populations, one in the Pindus, one in the Rhodope Mountains. (D243)
    • Italy: two populations, one in Abruzzo National Park, one in the Trentino Alps. (D243)
    • Spain: two populations in the Cantabrian Mountains. (D243)
    • Albania: status unknown. (D243)
    • Yugoslavia: Dinara Mountains. (D243)
    • Bulgaria: Nalken Range, Rilan area, Pirin area, Rhodopa Range. (D243)
    • Romania: Carpathian and Transylvanian Mountains. (D243)
    • Czechoslovakia: High Tatra National Park. (D243)
    • Poland: border with Czechoslovakia, and border with the former USSR. (D243)
    • Russia: similar to historical range, with large populations in Khazakstan, west and east Siberia, Sakhalin, Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, Khabarovsk, Primorye, Amurskaya and Magadaskaya. There has been a decline in the central Siberian area. (D243)
    • Estonia: small isolated population. (D243)
    • Turkey: Artvin, Hakkari, Tunceli and Erzincan areas. (D243)
    • Lebanon: extinct. (D243)
    • Syria: status unknown. (D243)
    • Iraq: status unknown. (D243)
    • Iran: status unknown. (D243)
    • Mongolia: four populations, in Hozsgol, western Altai, Hentei Mountains, and in the Onon and Uldz valleys. (D243)
    • India: rare, in northern India. (D243)
    • Pakistan: may be found uncommonly along the border with China. (D243)
    • Democratic People's Republic of Korea: status unknown. (D243)
    • China: in the Tianshan and Pamir Mountains, on the steppes and deserts of the Qinghai-Xizang plateau, and in the Tahinganling, Wanda and Changbai mountains. (D243)
    • Japan: on Hokkaido, in three populations. (D243)
  • In Europe, this species was previously widespread but its range has declined dramatically since the mid-1800s. In western Europe the distribution is now patchy and there is no chance of continuous habitat being re-established. (J179.255.w1)
  • Brown bears used to be abundant in the Himalayas. Now they are rare in Pakistan and there are no recent reports from Bhutan. In Nepal, they are still found in Upper Mustang. In India, they are "largely confined to the western and northwestern Himalayan ranges in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himchal Pradesh and Uttaranchal", there is also a small population in Sikkim, which may be continuous with the Tibetan population. There are no confirmed reports in the alpine regions of the Eastern Himalayas. The total population in India may include about 300 individuals. [2003] (J178.100.w1)
  • In North America, there are secure populations in Alaska and Canada. In the 48 continental states they are found in only 1% of their original range. In Mexico, they were probably eliminated in the early 1960s. (B406.36.w36)
  • Historically, brown bears were widespread across North America. However, during a period of 100 years they were eliminated from 98% of their historical range within the lower 48 states of the USA. (B490.26.w26)
  • Presently found in parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. The largest populations are in Russia, Alaska, and Canada. (D314)
  • In Europe, populations are highly fragmented, some are extremely small and isolated. Brown bears are still found in Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine. This bear is extinct in Liechtenstein and Portugal. (D314
    • Spain: Cantabrian populations: "Presently there are two bear nuclei in the Cantabrian Mountains in Spain. They are defined as the western and eastern portions." (D314)
    • Spain/France (Pyranees): The Western Pyrenean brown bear subpopulation of nine bears "is found in a 1,000 kmē area located on both sides of the national border between France and Spain in the western portion of the Pyrenees Mountain Range. However, only about one half of this area is used regularly." The Central Pyrenean brown bear subpopulation, of eight bears "is on both sides of the national border between France and Spain in the central portion of the Pyrenees Mountain Range including Andorra." (D314)
    • Alps: There are three nuclei, in Central Austria ("a small nucleus originated from three bears released in 1989-1993, into an area with a naturally occurring male bear"), in the Central Italian Alps (Trentino) with "20-25 individuals, all originated from the animals translocated in the 1999-2003 period", in an area of about 1,500 kmē, with only 240 kmē used regularly. In the Eastern Alps there is a third nucleus, originating from individuals which arrived naturally from the Slovenian population. Additionally, in the Slovenian alps along the border with Austria, vagrants from the Dinara-Pindos population are often found. (D314)
    • Appenine Mountains, Italy. This population is found in and around the Abruzzo National Park. (D314)
    • Dinara-Pindos population, in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia, Albania, and Greece, "in the forested areas extending from the Dinara range in Slovenia in the north through Pindos Mountains in Greece in the south" Functional habitat for the bears is somewhat separated into more or less isolated sub-araes, with corridors. (D314)
    • Carpathian mountains population, in Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia and Romania. This is the second largest brown bears population in Europe, with bears widely distributed from hilly areas to sub-alpine habitats of the entire Romanian Carpathian Mountains range. In Romania, bears are found permanently or sporadically across about 62,000 square kilometres, including 44,000 square kilometres of forested habitat. (D314)
    • Balkan populations. 1) Rila-Rhodope area: three connected populations in the Bulgarian Rila Mountains and Pirin Mountains (south-western Bulgaria) and the population in the western Rhodope Mountains (south-western Bulgaria and north-eastern Greece)on both sides of the national border. Of the total population of about 520 bears, only about 25-30 of the total population (approximately 520 bears) are found in Greece. The main connection between the bears in Greece and Bulgaria is probably dispersing males from Bulgaria; additionally, family groups may seasonally disperse from Greece into Bulgaria. 2) Stara Planina population: "from Kotlenska mountain in the east to Zlatitsa-Teteven in the west, along a 120 km stretch of the Stara Planina Mountains (Balkan Range). The western end extends into Serbia and a few bears are shared over the border. The Stara Planina population was believed to be isolated from the populations to the south and west but there is recent evidence of bears in the corridors to the south towards Rila-Rhodopean Mountains, including family groups." (D314)
    • Scandinavia: this population is shared between Sweden and Norway; , but with most of the population (> 95%) in Sweden. In Norway, they are found mainly along the border with Sweden, and most are young males dispersing from Sweden. "The delineation is along the Swedish-Finnish border, and further north through Norway. Bears in Norway east of this line are in Northeastern Europe population. The area between the Scandinavian and Northeastern Europe populations is very sparsely inhabited by bears." (D314)
    • North-eastern European population: this "is the largest continuous brown bear population in Europe. Its range stretches from the Ural Mountains in the east (continuous with the bears on the east side of the mountains making it the largest brown bear population in the world) to the west coast of Finland and the Baltic. It ranges from 53° N in the south to 69° N in the north. This population includes bears in north-easternmost Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Belarus." (D314)


  • Movements are strongly associated with food availability. (D314)
  • Brown bears may make seasonal movements associated with major food sources such as salmon streams and areas with great production of berries. (B147)
  • In Siberia, bears may move hundreds of kilometres to food sources. (B147)
  • Brown bears make long-established seasonal movements to dependable seasonal high-calorie food resources. (B406.36.w36)

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Accidental and Naturally Introduced

Source Information

  • In Europe, vagrants may be found in Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Moldova and Switzerland. (D314)


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Source Information

  • In Europe, brown bears have been reintroduced in Austria, France and Italy. (D314)

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Authors & Referees


Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)


Djuro Huber (V.w101), Chuck Schwartz (V.w105)

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