Brown Bears in the Wild

Brown bears are some of the most majestic and intriguing mammals to roam the earth, they have been widely documented and have appeared in many movies.

But how much do we really know about the Brown Bear? Where can you encounter these interesting animals in the wild? What should you do if you ever find yourself face-to-face with a bear?

We’ll take you through the ins and outs of a bear’s life and the answers to these questions in this blog.

If you are here for something specific use the below links to get there, otherwise enjoy this blog in its entirety

General Summary

Location, Location, Location

Population and Distribution

Characteristics and Behaviour

Diet

Hibernation

When Bears wake up

Viewing Etiquette

Avoiding and Encounter

Bear Attacks

Threats

5 Fun Facts

Operators

General Summary

Currently, the worlds Brown Bear population is not under immediate threat and is classified by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as being “of least concern”.  

Brown Bear

This is indeed great news, however other closely related bear species such as the Polar Bear are sadly endangered significantly, therefore seeing one in the wild is very lucky and raising awareness is very important. 

Brown bears are easily identifiable by their long thick brown fur, with a distinct mane at the back of their necks. They are mostly known as Brown Bears in European areas, unlike in North America where they are rather called Grizzly Bears- named from their grizzled fur coat. Brown Bears have a substantial lifespan of around 20 to 30 years in the wild and can live up to 50 years in captivity. They are also known for being extremely heavy animals, with the males ranging from 135 kgs to 650 kilograms plus! Females weigh in at around 80-250 kilograms- so much lighter than their male counterparts. 

Best Locations to visit Brown Bears: 

The Brown Bear is a species found across the world and is categorized as the most widely distributed bears in the world.

They are found in Forests and Mountains across Europe, Asia and North America. The World’s largest Brown Bears are found in the coastal regions of Alaska and British Colombia – on islands such as Kodiak. 

Operators in the North American regions include: Kodiak Bear Centre , Alaska Tours , Pack Creek Bear Tours and Alaska Northern Adventures .

Brown bears can be found in a variety of habitats, from the fringes of deserts to high mountain forests and ice fields. In Europe, the Brown Bear is mostly found in mountain woodlands-, like in Siberia where they locate primarily in forests. Whilst in North America, they prefer tundra, alpine meadows and coastlines. The species’ main requirements are areas with dense cover in which they can shelter by day.

In Europe one of the most reliable places to see the European Brown Bear is Northern Finland, where it is possible to get very close views from hides. Another noteworthy sighting is watching Grizzly Bears catching salmon in Western Canada in the spring, this is undoubtedly one of the greatest of natural history thrills.

A European Operator in the move displayed map is Nordic Experience which is sure to provide awesome encounters with these fascinating animals.

Have you suddenly felt the desire to one day see these awesome animals in the wild for yourself? Have a look at Operators mentioned in the blog and in the map which specialise in Brown Bear encounter tours! This map indicates the areas in which Brown Bears can be found in the wild. There are also tour sights pinpointed which will enable your desire to see these awesome animals on a guided tour.

Population and Distribution

The total global population of Brown Bears is estimated to be above 200,000, where Russia has the largest number of brown bears, believed to be over 100,000.

Around 8,000 brown bears are thought to remain in Western Europe and the Carpathians (Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania). They are also thought to be found in Palestine, Eastern Siberia and the Himalayan region, possibly the Atlas Mountains of northwest Africa, and Hokkaido (Japan).

The species is still fairly common in the mountainous regions of Western Canada and Alaska, where its population may reach 30,000 individuals. In other parts of the United States, fewer than 1,000 grizzly bears remain. This is in contrast to the early 1900’s where Grizzly Bears in the United States were plentiful- the increase in trophy hunting is believed to be the cause of the Brown Bears moving more Northwards.

Characteristics and Behaviour: 

New-born Brown bears are very vulnerable as they are born blind, naked and weighing only 340 to 680 grams.

Brown Bear and Cubs

Cubs do however, grow very quickly, reaching 25kg by 6 months, and continue lactating for 18 to 30 months while learning to eat a variety of foods. Cubs usually remain with their mother until the third or fourth year of their life. Brown Bear cubs become sexually mature from the ages 4 to 6 years old, however they still to grow themselves until 10-11 years old. 

Often Brown Bear males fight over females, and once they have won, they tend to guard them as their own for 1 to 3 weeks.

Brown bears mate from May to July, and a gestation of 180 to 266 days follows, with births occurring from January to March, usually while the female is still in hibernation. She generally has two or three offspring at a time, and breeds again 2 to 4 years later. 

Diet

Brown Bears are omnivorous meaning they eat plants as well as meat, and their diet varies with the season and what is available in their habitat at the time.  

From grass and shoots in the spring, to berries and apples in the summer, nuts and plums in autumn.

All year round they eat roots, insects, mammals such as moose and elk, reptiles, and of course, honey. In Alaska, grizzlies feed on salmon during the summer which is a gorgeous sight to see them catch the Salmon as the Salmon attempt to migrate upstream.

Brown bears usually forage at dawn in the morning and at dusk in the  evening and rest under dense vegetation during the day. Depending on the season, brown bears may travel hundreds of kilometres during the autumn to locate food supplies.

Hibernation: 

Every year Brown Bears go into hibernation around November and December for up to six months. The main reason for this is to preserve their energy during low food supply months in the winter.

Bear in Water

In preparation for hibernation Brown Bears eat around the clock (they may eat up to 40 kilograms of food per day). During Hibernation the Brown Bears heart rate drops to a mere 8 beats per minute in contrast to their usual 90 beats per minute.

In addition to this, their body temperature drops significantly whilst they are asleep in their dens. Despite being in hibernation, bears can still be easily awakened during this period and almost always give birth to their cubs during the hibernation period. 

When Bears wake up 

When spring arrives and the snow begins to melt, bears start to wake up after months of hibernation. It is an exciting time of the year for bears and park visitors. 

Brown Bear Cub

When bears emerge from their dens, understandably hungry, they immediately begin to search for food. And there is plenty to eat. Receding snow reveals vegetation rich in nutrients.

Winter kill – deer, elk, moose or anything else that may fancy a bear’s taste buds, are easy pickings. It’s an important time of the year for a bear as it begins the process of nourishing itself, continually gorging on food throughout the year in preparation for hibernation again in the fall.

For visitors beginning their spring and summer vacations, the emergence of Brown bears means a chance to see a bear in its natural habitat, its home. But it also means that another food source presents itself to bears – the food you may accidentally (or intentionally) leave behind or provide.

Viewing Etiquette

Many people wish to visit Brown Bears in the Spring time, however often there is misinformation about what is in ones best interest when viewing these animals in the wild. 

Brown Bear

First and foremost it is so important to respect a bears space. Binoculars and spotting scopes will allow you to see them up close without getting physically too close and invading the bears space. Secondly, it is important that one never approaches, crowds, pursues, or displaces bears. 

If a bear changes its behaviour because of your presence, you are too close! Also, check with the park you are visiting for viewing distance regulations, which may vary based on species and terrain. For example, Yellowstone National Park requires visitors to keep a distance of at least 100 yards (300 feet). 

What is to follow seems obvious to some but is often forgotten about when solo travellers seek wildlife: stay in groups, on designated paths and minimize noise and movement. However, in areas of low visibility or when you’re out on the trail, reduce chances of surprise encounters by staying alert and talking calmly to identify yourself as a human and not another animal.

Always leave “orphaned” or sick bears alone. Young animals that appear alone usually have a mother waiting nearby so never get between a mother and her cub, this will not end well for you! 

Should you be in close contact with a bear, make sure to give the bear sufficient room to pass and more importantly, do not run away from a bear. Although, this is a completely natural reaction, move calmly and slowly, to make sure the bear doesn’t get triggered into running after you. Bears certainly are much faster than humans anyway. 

Avoiding an Encounter

Following Viewing Etiquette  is the first step to avoiding an encounter with a bear that could escalate into an attack.

Brown Bear Cubs

Keeping your distance and not surprising bears are some of the most important things you can do. Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity or a good food source, such as berry bushes.

Bear Attacks

Bear attacks are rare, most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs, or their space. However, being mentally prepared can help you have the most effective reaction. Every situation is different, but here is some advice regarding a Brown Bear/Grizzly attack.

Firstly, help protect others by reporting all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately. But above all, keep your distance from bears! If you are attacked by a Brown/Grizzly bear, leave your pack on and play dead. Lay very still and flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over if they try to move you.

Remain as still as possible until the bear loses interest or leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face, but again try not to run away from it yourself as it will only be motivated to chase you.

Threats to Brown Bears: 

Brown bears were once subject to hunting and big game trophies, as well as being sought for their meat and hides. Bear gall bladders reportedly bring high prices on the Asian aphrodisiac market, but although demand is growing, there is no evidence that products derived from bear parts have medical value.

Brown bear


Other serious threats to bears are habitat destruction which is the problem that affects populations of different species. Habitat destruction includes the effects of Global warming, and Climate change on natural habitats but also the man-made deforestation etc.  

For example, grizzly bears are now found only in 2% of their former range. Logging, mining, road construction and other developments have reduced available bear habitat and contributed to the decrease in bear populations. The decreasing population in the United States is a direct effect of the aforementioned industrialisation occurring. 

In some countries, human/bear conflict has caused problems, particularly in areas where bears can interfere with livestock, orchards, water supplies and garbage bins

5 Fun Facts: 

  1.  Grizzly bears have been clocked running up to 35 miles per hour. (whereas the top human speed ever recorded is 27.8 mph). 
  2. This species is one of the largest living carnivores on earth 
  3. Bears are commonly silent but can communicate with grunts, roars, or squeals. 
  4. Nearly 50 percent of all brown bear cubs die before they are one year old. 
  5. The brown bear is the largest predator still living on the continent of Europe.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, you will most likely our other blogs related to bears! Read up on the Worlds largest bear- the Polar bear, or the Black bear. Enjoy!

2 Responses
  1. Hilary

    Such an interesting article and so good to understand facts around the species and know where the Brown bear can be found, thank you!

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