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Lower Risk


(Ursus arctos)


Classification and Range

brown bear range map Brown bears belong to the family Ursidae, which includes eight species. The Kodiak bear is a subspecies of brown bear found on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Kodiak bears are the largest of all brown bears and the second largest bear in the world. The largest bear is the polar bear, which inhabits the arctic coastal areas of the north. Brown bears have the widest range of any species of bear in the world. Their range covers northwest North America; across northern Europe and Asia from Scandinavia to eastern Russia; central Europe, including the Pyrenees, Alps, Abruzzi and Carpathian mountain ranges; and from Syria through the central Asian republics to the countries of the Tibetan plateau (China, Tibet and Nepal).



Temperate forests and grassy plains up to 10,000 feet (3,048 m).

Physical Characteristics

Brown bears have a head and body length of 68-112 inches (173-284 cm), and their tail is 2.5-8.5 inches (6-22 cm) in length. Brown bears range from 209-1,716 pounds (95-780 kg) in weight. Adult males normally weigh more than adult females. Coastal Kodiak bears, which feed on high-calorie diet of salmon, can often reach 1,540 pounds (698 kg). Brown bears residing in the interior primarily feed on lower calorie diet of berries, vegetation and small mammals. The weights of interior bears varies from about 330-794 pounds (150-360 kg) in Alaska and British Columbia, to 209-306 pounds (95-139 kg) in the Yukon Territory, to 224-714 pounds (102-324 kg) in Yellowstone National Park.

The fur of a brown bear has many variations of color, from cream to cinnamon and brown to black. The brown bear has a concave outline to the head and snout, small ears on a massive head, and high shoulders that produce a sloping back line. The bear's sense of smell is much more acute than its hearing and sight.

Life Expectancy

20-25 years in the wild; somewhat longer in zoos


In the wild: Brown bears are omnivorous and eat several different available plants and animals. This includes herbs, tubers, berries, insect grubs, small rodents, salmon, trout, carrion (dead animals), young hoofed animals (moose, elk, deer, caribou) and occasionally livestock.

At the zoo: Canine diet, yams, carrots, apples, oranges, romaine, celery, kale, omnivore biscuits, leaf eater biscuits and bread.


Breeding occurs in May or June after two to 15 days of courtship. However, the fertilized egg does not begin its embryonic stage of development inside the womb until October or November. Bears give birth to the smallest of all mammalian young in proportion to the size of the parent. The young are born helpless and weigh about 13 ounces (369 g). Between January and March, the female gives birth to two or three cubs. After birth, the cubs remain with their mother up to four years (up to five in Alaska). The sow generally gives birth to another litter the first spring after separating from her cubs.

Life Cycle

Under most circumstances, brown bears live as lone individuals, except for females accompanied by their cubs. Siblings sometimes remain together for a while after separating from their mother. Despite their propensity for solitary existence, brown bears congregate where food is abundant, such as at salmon streams or garbage dumps.

Winter Rest

Bears experience a period of dormancy beginning in November or December, ending in April or May. They spend the dormancy period in their dens. Their body temperature drops, and their general metabolic rate decreases as well. This is not considered complete hibernation. They occasionally emerge from their dens to forage, particularly during spells of warm weather or during years when food is scarce prior to denning. Cubs are also born during the period of denning.

Are Brown Bears and Grizzly Bears the Same?

All grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) are a subspecies of brown bears, but not all brown bears are grizzly bears. Worldwide, brown bears are found throughout the northern hemisphere in North America, Asia and Europe. The North American populations of brown bears living in the interior portion of this continent are referred to as grizzly bears. This distinguishes them from brown bears living on the coastal areas of Alaska. As brown bears living in the interior become older, the ends of their hair tips turn silvery-gray, giving them a "grizzled" appearance. Hence, the reference to them as grizzly bears.

Are there any Grizzly Bears in Washington state?

Researchers suspect that grizzly bears do live in Washington state. However, experts in animal tracking and wildlife sciences can rarely get confirmed sightings. Research indicates that grizzly bears likely live in the North Cascades and the northeast corner of the state, wandering in and out of Canada.

Location at the Zoo

The zoo's two brown bears are grizzly bears. They can be viewed from a number of locations within the Northern Trail. Several overlooks provide fantastic views of the bears ambling over ground and through streams. Two cave-like apertures offer a private view of the bears and their pool. Inside the Taiga Viewing Shelter, visitors can watch the bears swim in their pool and try to catch live trout. Woodland Park Zoo has kept brown bears for nearly 100 years. During this time, these bears have successfully raised 13 cubs.

Conservation Connection

Brown bears are listed as an endangered species in the countries of Bhutan, Mongolia and China. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife also lists the brown bear as endangered. Brown bears are considered threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states. They are not protected in Alaska.

Brown bears inhabit less than 2% of their original range. Furthermore, the current population is less than 2% of its original level. Today, there are between 40,000 and 50,000 brown bears left in the wild. This drop in numbers can be partially attributed to habitat loss and hunting. Fear and ignorance of bears has led to their extermination. An increase in the poaching of bears has also greatly affected bear populations. Poachers harvest bear body parts to provide ingredients for traditional Asian medicines. As a result of their low birth rate combined with a high death rate of cubs (up to 50% mortality), brown bear populations are not recovering from this dramatic decline.

How Woodland Park Zoo Is Helping-With Your Support!

Woodland Park Zoo supports several field-based conservation projects that aim to help animals, plants and habitat in brown bear's range. These include the Selkirk Grizzly Project, DNA research, and the Western Wildlife Outreach.

Since 1998, WPZ has provided funding to the Selkirk Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Recovery Project. Grizzly bears in the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains of northern Idaho and northeastern Washington represent one of the last six remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states. This project supports the Idaho Fish and Game Department in the field study of grizzly bears and local education programs necessary to stop hunting-related bear deaths. The project hired a conservation officer, whose salary is partly supported by donations from WPZ. The officer meets with approximately 3,000 people per year, teaching them to live, work and recreate in grizzly bear country. During the winter (while the bears are hibernating), this officer gives presentations to students, civic groups, sportsmen's groups, conservation organizations and tourists. During the summer, this officer spends time with hunters in the field. Over 36,000 people have been reached through field patrols, public presentations and school programs. The high rate of conservation education has shown a direct effect on the number of grizzly deaths due to mistaken identity. Since the program's inception, the number of accidental grizzly bear deaths has decreased.

Woodland Park Zoo supports research in cooperation with the University of Washington that helps bears and other large carnivores. One technique is the development of non-invasive molecular methods (such as DNA analysis) to identify and track large carnivore species found in the Pacific Northwest. These species include: cougars, lynx, bobcats, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, and coyotes. This method will have broad usage in many aspects of carnivore conservation, such as determining species identity and providing carnivore population surveys for other species.

Western Wildlife Outreach (WWO) is a community-based project that facilitates grizzly bear recovery. WWO promotes an accurate understanding of grizzly bear biology, ecology, safety, and behavior. WWO hopes to achieve practical co-existence with grizzly bears through community involvement, education, and high quality outreach materials. This project actively engages a broad array of local people (supporters and opponents) in a process of learning, and provides information using a blend of proven techniques. The staff on this project unites grizzly bear expertise, communication strategy, and local community and wildlife knowledge.

Each in-situ project supported by the zoo aims to provide a broad, holistic approach to conservation, encompassing research, education, habitat and species preservation. This includes comprehensive, cooperative strategies to link the needs of animals with the people who share their ecosystems.

How You Can Help!

Woodland Park Zoo contributes information to the captive husbandry and public awareness of this intriguing native species. The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Let your elected representatives know your views on protecting endangered species and wild habitats. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts.

Contact Woodland Park Zoo at to find out about ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Domico, Terry. 1988. Bears of the World. Facts on File, New York, NY. 189 p.

Nowak, Ronald M. ed. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. 5th Edition. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. 1629 p.

For Kids!

Lynch, W. 1995. Bears, Bears, Bears. Firefly Books, Willowdale, Ontario, Canada. 63 p.

Other Resources

The Bear Den (Brown and Grizzly Bears fact sheet):

Woodland Park Zoo Animal Management Staff: Personal Correspondence

Woodland Park Zoo - Teachers Packet Fact Sheet (Brown Bear)


Brown Bear Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. arctos

Brown Bear Fascinating Facts

  • A brown bear can eat 25-35 pounds (11-16 kg) of food per day, about 2% of their body weight.
  • The claws of a brown bear can reach almost 5 inches (12.7 cm) long.
  • A bear can run at bursts of speed of up to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).

Our Brown Bears

Meet our Brown Bears

Woodland Park Zoo’s two grizzly bears are brothers named Keema and Denali and are 20 years old (2014).

The brothers arrived here from Washington State University in 1994. WSU maintains a small population of grizzlies in order to conduct long-term studies on bear nutrition.