Ussuri Brown Bear, Ursus arctos lasiotus

The Ussuri brown bear, sometimes called the black grizzly, can be found in many regions including the Korean Peninsula, Kunashiri Islands, northeastern China, Sakhalin, and the Shantar Islands, among other places. It is a subspecies of the brown bear. The Usurri brown bear is thought to be an ancestor of the North American brown bear, and may have traveled to its current locations from Alaska 13,000 years ago.

This bear has many similarities to the Kamchatka brown bear, but its differences include a slightly darker color, a longer skull, cheekbones that are not as separated, and a lower forehead. The skulls of adult males can reach a width of 9.2 inches and a length of up to 15.2 inches. The Ussuri brown bear can differ in size depending on its location; bears in the southern regions of Injeba’k Mountain can weigh up to five hundred and fifty-one pounds, while the bears found north of the mountain can weigh up to 1,322 pounds.

The status of the Ussuri brown bear in most of its regions is endangered, except in Russia where the bear is occasionally hunted. In Heilongjiang, there are around 500-1,500 bears, and even with its status as a vulnerable species, is still hunted for its valuable body parts. In Hokkaido, there are five different subpopulations of these bears. The small population in western Ishikari, numbering around 152 bears at most, has been listed as endangered in Japan’s Red Data Book. The population of up to 135 bears in the Teshio-Mashike Mountains has also been listed as endangered. The numbers of Ussuri bears in these regions are so small because of human forestry practices, excessive harvesting, and the construction of roads.  In Korea, there are only a few of the Ussuri brown bear left in existence. This has led them to become a national monument. There are two main populations of this bear in North Korea; the JaGang province and HamKyo’ng Mountains. In South Korea, the Ussuri brown bear is extinct, mainly because of poaching. The Ainu people, natives to areas of Japan and Russia, actually worshipped this bear and would perform rituals that included ingesting the bear’s meat and blood.

The Ussuri brown bears in Sikhote Alin are known to live in burrows that have been dug into hillsides. They have also been known, although rarely, to dig ground burrows or live in rock outcroppings. This bear has rare encounters with other bears in the area, as it prefers to live at higher elevations. On the Island of Sakhalin, bears will feed on a various number of things. In middle Sakhalin, they will feed on the previous year’s supply of ants, flotsam (or wreckage), and bilberry, and before hibernation will eat mainly rhizomes and tubers from tall grasses. On the southern areas of the island, Ussuri bears will feed on flotsam, maple twigs, and insects. The summer diet will consist of chokeberries and currents. The Ussuri brown bears in Hokkaido will eat many things including fish, small mammals, birds, and even ants.

The Ussuri brown bear is known to have interactions with Siberian tigers, as they are sometimes hunted by them. It is thought that the tigers have little impact of the bears because they also exist in small numbers.  Typically, attacks from tigers will occur while the bears are hibernating. They are attacked more than small bears because of their tendency to live in more open spaces, and because they cannot climb trees. Tigers are able to kill the bears by latching onto the back, one paw holding onto the chin and the other latching onto the throat. The killing blow is dealt when the tiger bites into the bear’s spinal column. Tigers will eat mainly fatty parts of the bears’ body, including the legs, groin, and back. These attacks typically occur when the tiger’s main prey of hoofed animals have a low population count.

Reports of Ussuri brown bears hunting Siberian tigers have been reported. These incidents occur because of disputes over prey or territory. Some bears will change their course if they smell a tiger has passed, while others will follow the tiger’s trail and even sleep in its den.  It has even been reported that some Ussuri bears have followed tigers in order to eat the leftovers from its kills. Scientists have dubbed these bears “satellite bears” because of this frequent behavior.

The Ussuri brown bear has attacked humans before, and the attacks are well documented. In the Sankebetsu brown bear incident, occurring in Sankei in the Sankebetsu district in December of 1915, seven people were killed. The eight hundred and thirty-seven pound bear attacked twice, killing the second set of victims during the prefuneral  vigil being held for the first victims. This incident is thought to be the cause of the bear’s man eating image. During the first fifty-seven years of the 20th century, the Ussuri bear injured three hundred people, and one hundred and forty-one were killed.

Image Caption: Ussuri brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus) in the Beijing Zoo. Credit: JZ85/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)