A large brown bear walking through a forest

Brown Bears

Ursus arctos

Why are brown bears important?

Brown bears are vital species within their ecosystems. They help disperse seeds via their droppings and also deposit nutrients into the soil when they hunt for salmon as they leave discarded carcasses on the forest floor.

Through their predatory behaviour, brown bears help control the population of other species.

Key Brown Bear Facts

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Least Concern

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~200,000* (~110,000 mature individuals), stable. Last assessed in 2016

* According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

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From arctic shrub land to temperate rainforests, alpine meadows and coastal areas

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Northern Europe, Asia and North America

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Habitat loss, poaching, human-bear conflict

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Length – 1-2.8 metres, weight – 80-350kg

A brown bear cub running through the snow

Did you know?!

Although brown bears are large mammals, they can reach a top speed of 50-55 kmph over short distances!

How to recognise a brown bear

Brown bears are one of the largest carnivores found on the planet. They have a muscular shoulder hump which allows them to dig up roots and rocky ground to build dens, and tear apart logs to find food.

Sub-species of brown bear include the Kodiak bear, Eurasian brown bear and grizzly bear.

Male brown bears can be up to twice as large as females, which is likely due to competition between males during the breeding season.

Where do brown bears live?

Brown bears are found across many different habitats including arctic shrub land, temperate rainforests, alpine meadows and coastal areas. Depending on where brown bears are found, their name changes. Individuals that live in coastal areas of North America are known as brown bears, while those that live inland are referred to a grizzly bears due to their grey or white tipped fur, giving them a ‘grizzled’ appearance. Most brown bears are found in Russia or North America, with Europe having the smallest population.

A photo of two brown bear cubs foraging in the forest and eating apples

Brown bear cubs exploring the forest © OBRC

Brown bear behaviour

Brown bears are not true hibernators, but in October/November go into torpor, where they reduce their circulation, breathing and heartbeat to extremely low levels, for five to six months. During this time, they curl up to conserve heat and can lose up to 40% of their body weight.

A brown bear’s home range will vary depending on the availability of food but could be from as little as 100km2 to a massive 8,000km2. Brown bears are not territorial and will have overlapping home ranges, but males can become aggressive with each other to ensure their own ‘personal space’.

Brown bears use scent, body language and vocalisations to communicate. They will mark trees with their scent by rubbing their back and clawing the bark. Their scents can give other bears information about their identity, sex, social status and reproductive state. When brown bears feel threatened, they will raise to their full height to display their strength and dominance. Vocalisations may be used when bears feel threatened such as snorting, hoarse barking, growling or roaring. When greeting each other or communicating with young, they may give a chuffing noise.

A pregnant female brown bear will typically give birth to between one and three cubs during winter, following a pregnancy of 180-260 days.


A brown bear is walking through dense woodland

An adult brown bear in dense woodland © Arcturos

What are the threats to brown bears?

Read more about the threats to the world's brown bear population.

Although the worldwide brown bear population is fairly large, localised populations are fragmented and decreasing due to habitat loss, a significant proportion due to logging and forest clearance. Southern populations are more dispersed than those in the north.

Brown bears may attack livestock, damage property, forage crops or even threaten people – typically becoming defensive when cubs or carcasses are nearby. Brown bears will happily scavenge on rubbish or other human food that is available. This conflict reduces peoples’ tolerance to living with bears and can result in their persecution through hunting, trapping or poisoning.

Poaching is a threat to many populations of brown bears. Bears may be poached because of a lack of tolerance to live with potentially dangerous wild animals, or due to the illegal trade for bear parts in Asian countries.

Bears are inquisitive and opportunistic and suffer in captive situations, such as zoos and circuses, displaying their distress through abnormal behaviours, including bar-biting, swaying from side to side and even self-mutilation. Historically, cruel methods were employed to force dancing bears to perform.

What is Born Free doing to help brown bears?

Born Free is working to protect wild and captive bears and seeks to end the confinement, exploitation and suffering of bears (and other wild animals) in zoos and circuses for human entertainment.
An adult brown bear walks through autumn leaves in a woodland

Rescue & Care

Born Free supports the Arcturos Environmental Centre and Bear Sanctuary in Greece, providing lifetime care and protection for rescued bears, and orphaned bear cubs saved from the dancing bear trade. Supporters can adopt rescued bear Kyriakos who is cared for at Arcturos.
Three bears in a fast flowing river

Wildlife Trade

Bears are killed each year for ‘sport’ or trophies, or because of perceived conflicts with people. Others are killed for body parts, used as components of traditional medicines, or captured or bred for bile farming. We campaign to ban trophy hunting and end the trade in bear parts and products. We seek humane ways of mitigating conflict between people and wildlife.
A brown bear looking out from behind the bars of a cage

Captive Animals

Brown bears are held in large numbers in zoos and other captive facilities across the world. Born Free strongly opposes the exploitation and keeping of wild animals in captivity and campaigns to phase out the keeping of animals such as bears in zoos. We investigate and expose the animal welfare standards of zoos and their commitment to conservation.
A young brown bear turns its head towards the left

Adopt a brown bear

You can support Born Free's work to rescue, rehabilitate, and release orphaned cubs, as well as help protect bears in the wild, by adopting a brown bear.

Adopt A Brown Bear