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Brown Bears (Grizzlies) of the North

by Murray Lundberg

More Arctic & Northern Animals Links

      Whether you use the terms "beautiful", "magnificent", "awesome", "deadly" or some other adjective to describe brown bears, these animals are one of the most universally respected Northern residents.

      The scientific name for the brown bear is Ursus arctos. In North America, there is a lot of confusion about the differences between brown bears, grizzlies and Kodiak bears. They are all Ursus arctos, but there are 2 recognized subspecies,

  • Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
  • Kodiak brown bear (Ursus arctos middendorfi)
    In general the coastal bears are brown bears, the interior bears are grizzlies and the Kodiaks live only on Kodiak Island. Coloration varies greatly, from black to the famous blondes of Denali Park.

    A family of black bears beside the Stewart-Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia       Around the world, the illegal hunting of bears ("poaching") is big business. Various parts of the bear such as the gall bladder and paws are extremely valuable on the Asian black market. An international agreement known as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has placed most populations of brown bears on a list known as Appendix II. Commercial trade in plants and animals listed on Appendix II (about 3,700 animal and 21,000 plant species), is permitted as long as it is sustainable and the specimens are obtained legally. In the case of bears, this is seldom the case. The massive curving claws of a grizzly are so impressive that you can actually buy replica claws online - they look great on a necklace!

          Alaska has healthiest populations of brown bears anywhere in the world. Both hunting grizzlies and just the opportunity to view them bring large numbers of people to the state. Areas frequented by large numbers of grizzlies include the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Katmai National Park and Pack Creek on Admiralty Island.

          In the rest of the world, brown bear populations are much smaller. In Finland there are about 500 bears, in Norway less than 150, and even in Russia the only reasonably healthy population is that of the Kamchatka brown bear.

          The links on the following pages will take you much deeper into world of the brown bear, and most of them include photos. Have fun!


    Brown Bears - Major Resources

    Alaska Department of Fish & Game


    Other Brown Bear Information

    Grizzly Bears
    From the Yukon Dept. of Renewable Resources, a very good look at the grizzly's life in all seasons.

    Kamchatka Brown Bear
    A brief look at the bears, and historic and modern hunting techniques.

    Kodiak Bears
    John Kozub gives you the straight goods on bear viewing on Kodiak Island - lots of bear facts, travel tips and good photos too.


    Brown Bear Viewing

    A blonde grizzly beside the road in Denali Park, Alaska, enjoying a spring salad Bear Viewing in Alaska
    A guide to all the best viewing locations.

    Katmai National Park

    Kluane National Park (Yukon Territory)

    Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska)

    McNeil River State Game Sanctuary (Alaska)

    Pack Creek (Admiralty Island, Alaska)

    Grouse Mountain Resort
    Located near Vancouver, BC, has 2 grizzly bears in their reserve.

    A European brown bear at the Munich Zoo in Germany
    A European brown bear at the Munich Zoo in Germany. Click to enlarge.


    Traveling Safely in Bear Country

    Alaska Department of Fish & Game

    British Columbia Parks Branch
    Extensive information about bears and about safety in the wild and in communities at the edge of the wilderness.

    Safety in Polar Bear Country
    By Parks Canada.

    Proper Use of Pepper Spray
    Red pepper spray, commonly used by people in bear country to ward off aggressive bear attacks, may actually attract brown bears if used improperly.

    Traveling in Bear Country
    From the Yukon Dept. of Renewable Resources, tips to stay safe.


    Books & Films About Brown Bears

    Grizzly Man DVD Grizzly Man DVD
    From the Discovery Channel - journey deep into the Alaskan wilderness with the amateur grizzly bear expert who lost his life in pursuit of his passion. In this acclaimed film, director Werner Herzog explores the life and death of wildlife preservationist Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell lived unarmed among the bears for thirteen summers, and filmed his adventures in the wild during his final five seasons. In October 2003, Treadwell's remains, along with those of his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were discovered near their campsite in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve mauled and devoured by a grizzly.

    Doug Peacock - Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness (Henry Holt, 1996)

    Backcountry Bear Basics: The Definitive Guide to Avoiding Unpleasant Encounters by David Smith (Seattle, WA: Mountaineers, 1997)

    Alaska Wildlife Viewing Guide by Michelle Sydeman and Annabel Lund (Helena, MT: Falcon, 1996)

    The Brown Bear: Giant of the Mountains by Valerie Tracqui (Charlesbridge, 1994)

    River of Bears by Tom Walker, Larry Aumiller and John J. Craighead (Voyageur, 1993)