California grizzly bear

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California grizzly bear
Monarch, a preserved specimen.
Conservation status

Extinct  (1922) (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. arctos
Subspecies: U. arctos californicus
Trinomial name
Ursus arctos californicus
Merriam 1896, pp. 76–77
  • colusus Merriam, 1914
  • henshawi Merriam, 1914
  • colusus Merriam, 1914
  • henshawi Merriam, 1914
  • klamathensis Merriam, 1914
  • magister Merriam, 1914
  • mendocinensis Merriam, 1916
  • tularensis' Merriam, 1914

The California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) is an extinct subspecies of the grizzly, the very large North American brown bear. "Grizzly" refers to the golden and grey tips of its hair. Genetically, North American grizzlies are closely related; in size and coloring, the California grizzly was much like the grizzly of the southern coast of Alaska. In California, it was particularly admired for its beauty, size, and strength. Many accounts from pioneers describe grizzlies in long, bloody fights with angry longhorn bulls, and often winning. Early on, the grizzly became a symbol of the State, was the basis of the state flag, and historically, California was known as the "Bear State."

In 1866, a grizzly weighing 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) was killed in Valley Center, California, the biggest bear ever found in California,[1] unsurpassed until John Lang shot the world's biggest bear — 2,320 pounds (1,050 kg) — near his ranch by Canyon Country, in 1873.[2]

California still has habitat for about 500 grizzlies [3] and if the North Cascade population recovers and expands, eventually the grizzly will likely return to California. There are however only about 20 of these bears remaining in that ecosystem.[4]


A Kodiak bear, nearest living kin to the California grizzly, despite its humpback.

Historically, all North American grizzlies were grouped together as one unique species until DNA testing revealed that they should properly be grouped taxonomically in the same species as the smaller, European brown bears. Thereafter, Californian grizzlies were re-classified in their own subspecies alongside the brown bear. Properly, all subspecies in North America are known as Grizzlies and until recently, the California Grizzly was classified Ursus horribilis.


Originally, California was known as the "Bear State" owing to extensive numbers of the world's largest bears, the blond and fierce California grizzlies, ranging throughout. Later, the nickname "Golden State" was added to draw financial investment to the State from imperial sources overseas.

Thus, the California grizzly bear is the official state animal,[5] appearing on its flag.[6] It is alluded to in the names of the sports teams of the University of California, Berkeley (the California Golden Bears), and of the University of California, Los Angeles (the UCLA Bruins) and in the mascot of University of California, Riverside (Scottie the Bear, dressed in a Highland kilt). The California Maritime Academy operates a training ship named "Golden Bear".


The last hunted California Grizzly Bear was shot in Tulare County, California in August 1922. Later, in 1924, a grizzly known to roam an area of the southern Sierras was spotted for the last time, and thereafter, grizzlies were never seen again in California.


  1. ^ "Valley Center History Museum". Retrieved 2012-05-05. 
  2. ^ "Santa Clarita Signal". Retrieved 2013-08-02. 
  3. ^ name="Carroll, C., R. F. Noss, N. H. Schumaker, and P. C. Paquet. 2001. Is the return of the wolf, wolverine, and grizzly bear to Oregon and California biologically feasible?. Pages 25-46 in Maehr D, Noss RF, Larkin J, Eds. Large Mammal Restoration: Ecological and Sociological Challenges in the 21st Century. Washington (DC): Island Press."
  4. ^ name="Morgan et al. 2004 Promoting understanding: The approach of the North Cascades Grizzly Bear Outreach Project. Ursus 15(1) Workshop Supplement:137-141 (2004)"
  5. ^ "History and Culture - State Symbols". California State Library. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  6. ^ California State Legislature (1911), "An act to select and adopt the bear flag as the state flag of California", The statutes of California and amendments to the codes passed at the thirty-ninth session of the legislature, San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, p. 6, retrieved 24 September 2011 

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