Distinguishing Features – The brown bear (sometimes called a grizzly in North America) is a large animal, usually dark brown in color, though it can vary from a light creamy shade through to black. The long guard hairs over the shoulders and back are often tipped with white which, from a distance, gives a grizzled appearance. The brown bear is characterized by a distinctive hump on the shoulders, a slightly dished profile to the face, and long claws on the front paws.
There is considerable variability in the size of brown bears from different populations, depending on the food available. Determining representative weights of specific populations is also difficult as there are seasonal considerations to take into account-for instance, some bears can weigh twice as much in the fall as they might weigh in spring. Adult males may weigh 135 – 390 kg (300 – 860 lb) compared with 95 – 205 kg (205 – 455 lb) for females. At birth, cubs weigh 340 – 680 grams (11 oz – 1 pound 6 oz). The largest bears are found on the west coast of British Columbia and Alaska, and on offshore islands along coastal Alaska, such as Kodiak and Admiralty. There, males average over 300 kg (660 lb) and females over 200 kg (440 lb). Brown bears from the interior ranges of North America, Europe, and the sub Arctic are roughly two-thirds the size of their Alaskan and Kamchatkan cousins.
Brown bears occupy a wide range of habitats including dense forests, subalpine mountain areas, and tundra. Its range is the widest of any species of bear in the world. They are found in localized populations in eastern and western Europe, Scandinavia, across northern Asia and in Japan. In North America, grizzly bears are found in western Canada, in northwestern U.S. states and are widespread throughout Alaska.
Brown bears mainly eat vegetation such as grasses, sedges, bulbs, and roots. They also eat insects such as ants, fish, and small mammals. In some areas they have become significant predators of large hoofed mammals such as moose, caribou/reindeer, and elk.
The brown bear for the most part leads a solitary life with the exception of females and young; sibling groups stay together for 1 – 2 years after leaving their mother.
Grizzly the brown bear and grizzly (left) have received a “bad rap” in the media. Headlines of bear attacks on humans evoke terror and often result in the shooting of bears. The truth is that the species is generally shy and reclusive, but will defend their territory against intruders including man.
Proper management of man-bear interactions would go a long way to reduce attacks, which in most cases happen at or near camping and recreation areas. Bears in these environments have lost their fear of man, primarily because of man’s irresponsible behaviour of leaving behind food refuse and, along with it, their scent which bears become accustomed to. Hungry bears then naturally begin to view campers as competitors and worse, a source of food. Ultimately, it is public ignorance, not the bear, that is at fault.