Here we present you the European brown bear in a short portrait.
Eurasian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos arctos)
Appearance: Brown bears have a shoulder height of 110 to 150 cm and weigh 80 to 270 kg. The brown bear has a dense and long coat, yellowish-brown or reddish-brown, sometimes darker, almost black.
Tracks: The four legs leave tracks as shown in the picture. Bears are able to stand on their hind legs to get a better view. But they rarely take this position.
Male = boar
Female = sow
How They Live
Brown bears are solitary, however they tolerate conspecifics of both sexes in their territories. Unlike the lynx and wolf, they are not territorial. Their migratory movements range from approx. 50 to 1500 km², whereby the males clearly require larger territories.
Bears usually mate with several partners. Cubs remain 2½ to 4 years with the mother; only after the cubs have migrated does the mother mate again. Bear cubs are born during hibernation and are very small (200-700 g) at birth. They drink their mother's highly nourishing milk and grow fast. When they leave their cave in spring, they are already recognisable as small bears.
In winter, the bear goes into hibernation in its cave. The cave is situated in natural cavities, such as under large rocks, or is dug directly into the ground. Hibernation is an adaptation to the lack of food during the cold season. The activity of the heart and lungs is reduced during this time, the body temperature drops and the bear is directly dependent on the layer of fat that has accumulated at the end of the autumn season.
European brown bears feed mainly on plants and carrion in spring and on fruits, nuts, honey and insects in autumn. Unlike North Americavn bears, they very rarely hunt and fish. During hibernation they do not eat or drink.
Bear and Human
Livestock / Bees
Similar to wolves, bears also prey on livestock if these are not sufficiently secured. The risk of bears attacking livestock can be reduced by the same measures implemented for protection from wolves:
- Fencing around pastures (fences or nets)
- Overnight shelter
- Deterrence using barrier tape/rags or light (short term)
Every child knows bears like honey! If bears find beehives, they plunder the existing honey and leave the hives destroyed. However, this "looting" can be prevented by installing electric fences.
Dogs must be kept on a lead in areas where bears are present. A free-roaming dog can be perceived by the bears as a threat and provoke them. If the dog then goes to humans for protection, this can lead to critical situations.
European brown bears feed mainly on plants and carrion in spring and on fruits, nuts, honey and insects in autumn. Unlike North American bears, they very rarely hunt and fish. For this reason, there is little controversy over bears and hunting. However, hunters should adjust their hunting strategies in areas where bears are present.
The bear could consider any animals that are shot as food and might try to defend them. Conducting a search without a dog and at dusk is not recommended. The dog can detect the presence of bears faster. Animals should not be gutted in the vicinity of human settlements or paths.
Although bears tend to avoid humans, the constant presence of food remains near human settlements or on campsites means that brown bears become accustomed to humans as a source of food. Many encounters with bears in Europe take place in tourist areas or in mountain settlements where food remains are not collected or tightly sealed.
Bears that show this habit of becoming accustomed to a human source of food and come into increased close contact with humans are resettled in low-population regions or taken to game enclosures in Europe. As a last resort the bears can also be shot if they behave conspicuously.
However, direct encounters between brown bears and humans resulting in injury or fatality are rare in Europe.
How should I behave?
The correct behaviour and good wildlife management and monitoring play an important role. In principle, it is important to teach children the rules for dealing with wild animals. Young children should always be supervised when in the forest.
How to behave in predator areas at a glance:
- Make noise!
- Respect the animal's territory, do not harass the animals. Stay on the paths.
- Do not leave any food or litter lying around.
- Keep dogs on a lead.
How to behave if you encounter a bear
Remain calm – do not run, but rather move backwards slowly while keeping your eye on the animal. If a bear rears up on its hind legs, it is not yet a threatening gesture. The bear is merely trying to get a better view of the situation. Try to keep as much distance as possible. Avoid making any threatening behaviour, do not throw anything or scream.
Avoid cubs, because often the mother will not be far away. If a bear approaches or even attacks you, take up a protective position. Lie on your stomach, hands behind your neck and stay still. Wait until the bear has really moved away.
The WWF has listed detailed recommendations for encounters with bears (in German): Behaviour in bear areas (WWF)
Monitoring and Preservation
There are currently around 17,000 bears in Europe. The distribution ranges from areas in the west of Spain to the east of Romania. Most bears live in the Carpathians - an estimated 7,000 animals - yet the significance of monitoring methods there is hotly debated. In many European countries, however, the bear is considered extinct, e.g. in Germany. In Austria, resettled bears have disappeared again. The aim of the monitoring is to provide up-to-date and reliable data on the state of the bear population and conflicts with humans. The monitoring methods include genetic analysis, telemetry, camera trapping, observation of sows and cubs, collection of presence characteristics (faeces, sightings, claw marks, tracks) and autopsy of dead animals
It is said that the presence of bears in a forest ecosystem signals the health of the forest and speaks for its size, abundance of herbs, forest fruits and fungi. The brown bear is an important disseminator of fruit seeds and fungal hyphae and research is studying its contribution to the creation of resources and habitats for other species. The presence of bears could therefore improve conditions for biodiversity. Bears are a protected species in Europe under the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (1979) and the EU Habitats Directive (1992). Bear populations have remained stable in most areas over the past decade due to conservation measures. Nevertheless, bears are particularly threatened by constant habitat loss and illegal hunting. Increasing fragmentation of natural habitats and rapid rural and urban development are increasingly leading to close contact between bears and humans, which can reduce tolerance towards bears (see also: Bears and Humans).
The Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC), in which the brown bear is also listed, aims to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status for all native and endangered species and their habitats.
The conservation status of a species in a biogeographical region is considered "favourable" if:
- The data on the population dynamics of the species suggest that the species is and will continue to be a viable element of the natural habitat to which it belongs;
- The natural range of this species neither decreases nor is likely to decrease in the foreseeable future;
- A sufficiently large habitat exists and will likely continue to exist in order to ensure the long-term survival of the populations of this species (Habitats Directive Art. 1 i).