Almost all of North America at one time was inhabited by the brown bear. However, today it can be found only in a few northwestern states, Alaska and Canada. It has been listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened since 1975 in the lower 48 states where it has been reduced to 2% of its historic range.
Since the 1800s, the brown bear population has decreased from over 50,000 to between 1,000 and 1,500 in the lower 48 states. Only in Alaska, Canada and Yellowstone National Park is the brown bear not considered to be threatened. Today it is most commonly found in mountainous areas and remote forests due to human encroachment.
In Europe, brown bears were once common throughout the continent, but are now mainly restricted to mountainous areas of the former Soviet Union. The largest number of brown bears, over 100,000, can be found east of the Stanovoi Range in Russia. Scattered populations can also be found in Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.
In Asia, the number of brown bears has been quickly declining because of excessive hunting for their body parts. There are small populations of brown bears in India, Pakistan, China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.
Subspecies of brown bears vary greatly in shape, size, and color. Their colors can be anywhere from beige to yellowish brown to dark brown to black, often depending on their geographical location. All brown bears have a distinctive hump between their shoulders which is a mass of muscle, giving them extreme upper body strength.
They measure 3 to 5 feet when standing on all fours and 5 to 9 feet when standing upright and can weigh anywhere from 400 to 1,700 pounds. Male brown bears are anywhere from 1.5 to 2 times the size of the female. Although some brown bears have reached a greater weight than the polar bear, polar bears are considered to be the largest terrestrial carnivore because of their greater length and height. In addition, they outweigh the brown bear on average.
Brown bears are considered omnivorous mammals, feeding on both vegetation and other animals. Most brown bears feed mainly on plants, and a good portion of them are thought to feed on plants alone. They will eat almost anything edible, but will become very selective when food is abundant. Though brown bears are powerful enough to kill large animals such as elk, bison, and moose, most of the animals that they feed on are either fish, small rodents, or abandoned kills left by other predators that the bear scares off. Because the brown bear's only real enemy is humans, it has no need to form packs. Most of its life is spent in solitude except when food is abundant, during mating season, and while raising its offspring.
BREEDING & HIBERNATION
The female brown bear matures at about 3 to 5 years of age, and is in heat for approximately 3 weeks sometime from May to July (depending on the weather). Although mating occurs during this time, the fertilized eggs are not implanted into the womb until the fall to give the female time to build a reserve of fat for her cubs and herself to live off of during hibernation. The cubs are born sometime between January and March during hibernation. They are born blind, almost hairless, and weigh less than 1 pound, but reach about 20 pounds by the time they leave the den with their mother in the spring. The cubs usually stay with the mother for at least 2 years, and the mother will not ovulate for another 3 to 4 years.
The brown bear has lived as long as 47 years in captivity, but its life expectancy is 15 to 34 years in the wild. The brown bear species as a whole is said to be secure with fairly large numbers and range. However, the range of the bear in North America, Europe, and Asia has declined. In addition, it has been totally exterminated from North Africa. Regardless, it is still widely spread across 3 continents, and remains one of the most widely distributed terrestrial mammals on earth.