Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Carnivora / Ursidae / Ursus / Species:

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

CONSERVATION / PEST STATUS - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

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

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE: The world population may total 200,000 - 250,000, but many populations are small. The largest populations are in Russia (more than 123,800), Alaska (25,000 - 39,100) and Canada (about 25,000), but only about 800 - 1020 in the lower 48 states, less than 25 in each of Spain, France, Italy and Greece, perhaps 25 - 30 in Mongolia and low populations elsewhere in Eurasia.

GENERAL LEGISLATION: Legislation varies widely across countries. In some areas brown bears are totally protected, in others there are various limits on legal hunting and on the extent to which they can be killed to control damage to crops or livestock.

CITES LISTING: The populations of Bhutan, China, Mexico and Mongolia are in Appendix I; all other populations are included in Appendix II.

RED-DATA LIST STATUS: Ursus arctos is listed as Lower risk (least concern); the subspecies Ursus arctos nelsoni (Mexican brown bear) is classified as extinct.

THREATS: The main threats are excessive legal hunting, poaching for gall bladders and other body parts, habitat disruption and killing of "nuisance" bears.

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS: Individual brown bears sometimes become pests where they are attracted to human food and garbage, and where they damage agricultural crops or beehives, prey on livestock, or attack humans.

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS: More than 440 brown bears of various subspecies are kept in zoos round the world (based on ISIS data).

TRADE AND USE: --

For more information see: B442: Bears. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan - full text provided.

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Wild Population - Importance

Source Information

The world population may total 200,000 - 250,000, but many populations are small. The largest populations are in Russia (more than 123,800), Alaska (25,000 - 39,100) and Canada (about 25,000), but only about 800 - 1020 in the lower 48 states, less than 25 in each of Spain, France, Italy and Greece, perhaps 25-30 in Mongolia and low populations elsewhere in Eurasia.

The world population may total 200,000 - 250,000, but many populations are small:

  • In the lower 48 states of the US, this bear is considered to be a threatened species. (B180.w3)
  • In the US mainland, other than Alaska, there are only about 1,000 left, in five populations. (B285.w4)
  • In Spain, France, Italy and Greece, remaining populations each consist of less than 25 individuals. (B285.w4)
  • Transplantations of animals have been used to bolster populations in Austria, France, Italy and Poland. (B285.w4)
  • This species has a low reproductive rate and a slow response to compensate for population decline. Protecting adult females is particularly important. (D243)
  • Existing populations may require translocations of bears from other areas. (D243)
  • This species is not in danger of extinction, with a total population size of about 100,000, but some populations are. (B144)
  • Recent data based on mitochondrial DNA suggested that North American brown bears should be managed as three populations for conservation purposes: bears from Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof islands of Alaska in one group, bears of mainland Alaska, Kodiak Island and northern Canada in a second group, and those of southern British Columbia and southern Alberta (Canada) together with those tested from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (USA) in a third group. (J57.12.w3)
  • Genetic diversity is much lower in some North American populations than in others. The population of the Kodiak Archipelago shows very low genetic diversity, but this population has survived despite low population size and probable isolation for about 10,000 years. Genetic diversity was highest in northern bear populations (in the core of the North American distribution of this species) and significantly lower in populations in the Northwest Territories, southwest Alaska and the southern fringe of the distribution, and even lower for the bears of the Yellowstone Ecosystem population. The information from the Yellowstone and Kodiak populations indicates that effective population size is much smaller than had been suspected. (J57.12.w4)
  • A 1993 estimate suggested 25,000 - 39,100 brown bears in Alaska. (B442.5.w5a)
  • A 1991 estimate suggested about 25,000 brown bears in Canada. (B442.5.w5b)
  • In the lower 48 states of the US, the brown bear formerly was found over at least 16 states as recently as 1800, with at least 50,000 bears. At present, estimates indicate 350 - 450 bears in the Yellowstone area, 400 - 500 in the Northern Continental Divide, 20-30 in the US portion of Cabinet-Yaak, 25-35 in Selkirk (including the Canadian portion) and perhaps 5 in the North Cascades. (B442.5.w5c)
  • In Europe, populations have declined drastically since 1800, when brown bears were found across most of the continent. Remaining populations are found in small isolated ranges. (D262)
  • In Europe, there are 13 isolated populations some of which are very small and highly endangered. In the Dinara mountains in the Balkans the population exceeds 2,000, mainly in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Hercegovina, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, plus smaller areas of Albania and Greece. In Spain there are two isolated populations, one in the Cantabrian Mountains, the other in the Pyranees along the French border. In France there may be only 9-13 remaining. In the Alps the population in Trentino, Italy numbers less than 10. In the Appenines (Abruzzo National Park), there are about 70-80. The Western European populations belong to three main maternal lineages a northern lineage (bears in Sweden), a south-eastern lineage (bears in Croatia, the Alps and the Appenines) and a western lineage (in the Pyranees and the Cantabrian Mountains). [1994](J406.73.w1)
  • In Europe, the IUCN European Mammal Assessment gives the brown bear the status of "Least Concern" for Europe as a whole, and "Near Threatened" for the EU. The following are assessments of separate populations: [2006] (D314)
    • Cantabrian: "The two Cantabrian nuclei are assessed separately as there is apparently very little or no interchange between them (there are major barriers to dispersal, and the two nuclei are genetically distinct). In both cases the population may number less than 50 mature individuals. Consequently these two nuclei are assessed as Critically Endangered (D)." (D314)
    • Pyrenees: "The population in the Pyrenees is tiny and isolated. Although it has increased in number in the last decade as a result of translocations from Slovenia, it remains highly vulnerable. Classed as Critically Endangered (D)."(D314)
    • Alps: "The population is tiny and qualifies as Critically Endangered under Criterion D." (D314)
    • Appenine Mountains: "The population is tiny and qualifies as Critically Endangered under Criterion D." (D314)
    • Dinara-Pindos: "This population is small (<2,500 mature individuals). It has a structure such that each subpopulation contains fewer than 1,000 individuals. Population trends are poorly known, and although the population seems more or less stable, it is possible that there is a slight continuing decline. Consequently it is classed as Vulnerable (C2a(i)). The assessment is not adjusted because there is little interchange with other populations, and adjacent populations are also threatened. If better information shows that the overall trend is stable or increasing, reassessment should be considered." (D314)
    • Carpathian: "The population is small (<10,000 mature individuals), and all individuals are part of the same subpopulation. The population has been stable in the recent past, although there are concerns that it may be declining slightly at present as a result of infrastructure developments and other threats. Classed as Vulnerable (C2a(ii))." (D314)
    • Balkan: "This population is very small (<1,000 mature individuals) and qualifies as Vulnerable under Criterion D1." (D314)
    • Scandinavia: "This population is small (potentially less than 2,500 mature individuals). Although there is controlled harvesting, the population is nevertheless growing at a steady and relatively rapid rate. Consequently, as there is no ongoing decline, this population cannot qualify as threatened under Criterion C, even though its population size is small. It is classed as Least Concern." (D314)
    • Northeastern Europe: "This population is relatively large (c.38,000 individuals) and occupies a large range. Overall, the population trend is believed to be stable. Consequently it is classed as Least Concern." (D314)
  • In Asia, these bears are still widely distributed across the continent, from the tundra and boreal forests of Russia in the north to the Himalayas in the south. (D262, B442.7.w7)
    • In China, these bears are found throughout the forested areas of Heilongjiang. (B442.7.w7a)
    • In India, Ursus arctos isabellinus (Himalayan brown bear) is found at very low densities in the alpine regions of the Greater and Trans Himalayan regions, mainly at 3,000 - 5,000 m, in the states of Jammu, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Populations in most Protected Areas are classified as unknown or relatively rare. (B442.7.w7b)
      • 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. Their habitat is disturbed by grazing and by collection of medicinal plants, the population may be affected by continuing skirmishes on the India-Pakistan border, and it is possible cubs are collected (with the mother being killed) for illegal bear-baiting "entertainment". Conservation would require creation of a Transfrontier Reserve in India/Pakistan, removal of all disturbance during May to October, to ensure they can gain enough fat for hibernation, and stopping the illegal trade in cubs. [2003] (J178.100.w1)
    • In Japan, the Hokkaido brown bear Ursus arctos yeoensis is found on Hokkaido (and on the neighbouring islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu, under Russian control). Previously found throughout Hokkaido, by 1991 they were known in only about 50% of the island. Numbers are low, with estimated populations of 90 - 152 in the West Ishikari region and 84 - 135 in the Techio-Msahike mountains. (B442.7.w7c)
    • In Mongolia, brown bears are found only in the isolated southern massifs of the trans Altai-Gobi, within the Great Gobi National Park and Biosphere Reserve. Estimates form the 1980s and 1990 suggest a population of 25 - 30 bears. (B442.7.w7d)
    • In Russia, the brown bear is still common, with a total population in excess of 123,800. (B442.7.w7e)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

General Legislation

Source Information

Legislation varies widely across countries. In some areas brown bears are totally protected, in others there are various limits on legal hunting and on the extent to which they can be killed to control damage to crops or livestock.
  • In the USA: populations outside Alaska are on the Endangered Species List. (B285.w4)
  • Protected by hunting laws (hunting allowed with special permits only) in eastern European countries and in Italy, Spain, Scandinavia and Switzerland. (B422.w14)
  • Specially protected in France, with total protection in the Pyrenees National Park. (B422.w14)
  • Protected in areas such as the Abruzzo National Park (Italy). [1978] (B422.w14)
  • In Alaska, brown bears populations are secure and are classified as "big game" (Alaska Administrative Code 5AAC 92.990) which may be killed with appropriate licences and tags during the hunting season. Hunting of newborn cubs, yearlings, and females accompanied by cubs younger than two years old is not permitted. (B442.5.w5a)
  • In Canada, brown bears are classified as indigenous wildlife which may be hunted "wherever population sizes and productivity are sufficient." Hunting regulations are complex, varying between provinces and territories; no area allows trade in bear parts. Some bears are killed in association with defense of life and property. Illegal killing also occurs, including poaching for the illegal trade in bear pars. (B442.5.w5b)
  • In Heilongjiang Province, China they are classified as "Vulnerable Species", with a population of about 1,300. (B442.7.w7a
  • In India, the Himalayan brown bear is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act (Anon 1972) and its 1991 amendment, and in Appendix I of CITES in India. (B442.7.w7b)
  • In Japan, bears are considered as a game species under the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law 1918. Theoretically, hunting is not allowed except under "special circumstances", but in practice the interpretation of the laws has not been in favour of bear conservation. The sport hunting season runs from 1st October to 31st January and there are no limits on the number killed per hunter or on age or reproductive status. Additionally, bears can be killed at any time of the year for "damage control" if they are considered to threaten crops, property or human life. (B442.7.w7c)
  • In Mongolia the brown bear is completely protected. (B442.7.w7d)
  • In Russia, the brown bear is a traditional game animal. Hunting is now prohibited in some regions and requires a licence elsewhere. (B442.7.w7e)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

CITES Listing

Source Information

  • The populations of Bhutan, China, Mexico and Mongolia are in Appendix I; all other populations are included in Appendix II. (W354.Aug11.w1)
    • Ursus arctos isabellinus is listed in Appendix I. (W354.Aug11.w1)
    • Ursus arctos in Alaska is listed on Appendix IIB, which is designed to protect populations elsewhere in the USA. (B442.5.w5a)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Red-Data List Status

Source Information

Ursus arctos is listed as Lower risk (least concern); the subspecies Ursus arctos nelsoni (Mexican brown bear) is classified as extinct.
  • Lower risk (least concern). (W2.Jun06.w3)
  • The subspecies Ursus arctos nelsoni (Mexican brown bear) is classified as extinct. (W2.Jun06.w4)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Threats

Source Information

The main threats are excessive legal hunting, poaching for gall bladders and other body parts, habitat disruption and killing of "nuisance" bears.
  • Conflict with humans. (B285.w4)
  • Illegal hunting (in some areas regulated hunting is allowed). (B285.w4)
  • Hunting, which is uncontrolled in several areas. (B147)
  • Habitat disruption. (B147)
  • Sport hunting. (B422.w14)
  • Persecution, particularly as a killer of livestock. (B422.w14)
  • In Alaska, humans are the greatest threat; brown bears are killed for sport, subsistence, in defence of human life or property and, to an unknown but possibly significant extent, illegally. There is widespread intolerance with vocal support for large-scale reductions in numbers of brown bears, particularly from groups such as cattle ranchers on Kodiak Island and reindeer herders in northwestern Alaska. Illegal killing probably has increased due to the market for bear parts overseas. There are also threats due to habitat reduction with industrial-scale logging in southeastern Alaska, in forest stands which are recognised as critical brown bear habitats, used extensively during summer. (B442.5.w5a)
  • In some areas, petroleum exploration and development have significantly affected brown bears. Poor management of garbage leads to both deaths and translocations of bears. additionally, bears are shot as big game. (B442.5.w5b)
  • In the lower 48 states of the USA, the main present threats to the brown bear are human-caused mortality and the fact than populations are so small. Habitat threats include habitat fragmentation and roads, which both directly increase mortality and reduce habitat for bears which avoid roads. Some bears are killed illegally, some are killed being mistaken for Ursus americanus - American black bear by hunters. (B442.5.w5c)
  • In Heilongjiang Province, China, these bears are threatened by human-caused habitat disturbance and, because of the markets for products such as bear bile and bear paws, illegal hunting and capture. (B442.7.w7a)
  • In India, the main threats are illegal killing for livestock protection and for skins. (B442.7.w7b)
  • In Japan, the main threat is excessive harvest. Other threats include habitat loss due to forestry practices and road construction. (B442.7.w7c)
  • In Mongolia, brown bears are threatened by the small population size, inbreeding, and marginal habitat with a low quality diet producing a very low reproductive rate. Poaching also may occur. (B442.7.w7d)
  • In Russia, the main threats to the brown bear are hunting, and killing of nuisance animals. (B442.7.w7e)
  • In Nepal, the main threat to bears is habitat loss, due to encroachment by the increasing human population. Poaching may also be a problem. (N25.25.w1)
  • Brown bears, with their low reproductive rate, are vulnerable to human-related mortality. Their requirement for large ranges makes them vulnerable to land use changes. Habitat is lost due to logging, forest clearance and planting of exotic conifers, and remaining habitat is fragmented by the construction of high-speed road and rail networks, which is a serious problem for a species needing large areas. In some areas, such as Greece and Croatia, a major threat is mortality caused by high-speed road and rail networks through bear habitat. Poaching (which occurs irrespective of population size) is a threat to many populations, and may involve killing of females with cubs as well as males. "Poaching has probably worsened in countries such as Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Yugoslav Federation, and FYR Macedonia as a result of declining economic and social conditions. Poaching in Russia, to supply the lucrative market for bear parts in Asian countries, is a particular problem." The five tiny, isolated bear populations in France, Spain and Italy are highly threatened by their small population size, since random fluctuations could easily result in extinction. (D314) Looking at each population individually, according to the : (D314
    • Cantabrian: "The main pressure is the loss of adult individuals due to human induced mortality." (D314)
    • Pyrenees: "The main pressure is the loss of adult individuals due to killing by humans." (D314)
    • Alps: "Damages done by bears have the potential to reduce the public acceptance of this species, and of trouble-making individuals in particular. Intensive management of all bear related problems is under way. Despite the constant increase of the Central Italian nucleus, the limited numbers of individuals characterizing all the alpine nuclei show that all these are Critically Endangered. The loss of more than 15 bears from the central Austrian bear population and 2 dispersers from Italy suggest an unnatural high mortality rate of bears in the Alps. Unfortunately, illegal removals seems to be the most likely explanation." (D314)
    • Appenine Mountains: "The main pressure is the loss of adult individuals due to human induced mortality. The population is critically endangered. The bear population has been totally isolated for over a century, thus there may be genetic problems." (D314)
    • Dinara-Pindos: "Political instability and the lack of financial instruments represent a pressure in the central part of the range." (D314)
    • Carpathian: "The socio-economic developments in Romania have an influence on bear population on medium and long term and it is considered that the Romanian bear population is vulnerable." (D314)
    • Balkan: "Presently in Bulgaria there is liberal (poorly functioning) system of declaring the problem individuals assigned for removal, as well as poorly controlled poaching." (D314)
    • Scandinavia: "The major pressure in Norway is related to damages on unguarded free-ranging sheep." (D314)
    • Northeastern Europe: "Due to a large total size and large area the population is in favorable conservation status."  (D314)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Pest Status / Pest Populations

Source Information

Individuals brown bears sometimes become pests where they are attracted to human food and garbage, and where they damage agricultural crops or beehives, prey on livestock, or attack humans.
  • In Alaska, bears are attracted to human food and garbage as human populations increase, for example in the Kenai Peninsula, and there are incidents of human injury and deaths associated with this. (B442.5.w5a)
  • In China, they have been considered a pest due to damage to agricultural crops. (B442.7.w7a)
  • In Russia, brown bears sometimes prey of livestock, damage beehives or crops or attack humans, and therefore become nuisance animals. A particular problem occurs in some parts of Siberia, particularly the Baikal area, in years when the Siberian pine nut crop fails, since starving bears search for food in human settlements, and may be very aggressive. Many bears are then killed. Non-commercial poaching is not a serious problem but there has been a recent increase in commercial poaching, particularly in the Russian Far East, mainly for gall bladders but also for hides. There is little data by which to assess habitat threats. (B442.7.w7e)
  • In Europe, a survey in Austria, Italy, Norway, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden found that damage by bears was less than 20% of all damage caused by wildlife. Most involved sheep or beehives and occurred in July and August (sheep) or August to October (bee hives). (J345.11.w5)
  • In Croatia, bears are responsible most frequently for damage to bee hives; they also kill livestock such as sheep and goats. Attacks on humans are very rare and usually involve young bears and irresponsible behaviour by humans. About 3-10 traffic accidents (collisions between bears and vehicles) occur per year; bears also cause damage to hunting management structures such as feeding sites and food stores (rarely do they damage other structures such as fences and stables). (D316.4.w4)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Captive Populations

Source Information

More than 440 brown bears of various subspecies are kept in zoos round the world (based on ISIS data).
  • Brown bears are kept in zoos. (B422.w14)
  • ISIS lists more than 440 brown bears of various subspecies in ISIS member zoos around the world. (W520.June06.w5)
  • There are about 450 brown bears in European zoos, managed in a European studbook (ESB). Orphaned and nuisance bears generally are placed in collections. (N20.13.w2)
  • There are 98 brown bears in AZA collections (42.35. grizzlies, 6.12 Kodiak bears and three "other bears"); in other regional programmes, there are 302 in EAZA collections, 11 in ARAZPA and six in JAZGA (Japanese Association of Zoological Gardens and Aquariums) collections. (D319)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Trade and Use

Source Information

  • Sale of bear parts in Alaska is illegal. (B442.5.w5a)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Authors & Referees

Authors

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

Referee

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

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page