Atlas bear

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Atlas bear
Probable Atlas bear in Roman mosaic

Extinct  (1870s) (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. arctos
Subspecies: U. a. crowtheri
Trinomial name
Ursus arctos crowtheri
Schinz, 1844

The Atlas bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri) was both an endemic and extinct subspecies of the brown bear, which is sometimes classified as a chronospecies - and also the Cantabrian brown bear that was likely introduced to Africa by the Romans who imported Iberian bears for spectacles.[1][2]

Range and description[edit]

The Atlas bear was Africa's only native bear that survived into modern times. Once inhabiting the Atlas Mountains and neighbouring areas, from Morocco to Libya, the animal is now thought to be extinct.[2] The Atlas bear was brownish black in colour, and lacked a white mark on the muzzle. The fur on the underparts was reddish orange. The fur was 4–5 inches (100–130 mm) long. The muzzle and claws were shorter than those of the American black bear, though it was stouter and thicker in body. The Atlas bear was said to have been 9 feet long and weighed 1,000 pounds (450 kg).[3] It apparently fed on roots, acorns and nuts.[4] The Atlas bear was said to have been mostly herbivorous, but since most bears today are omnivores, the atlas bear is believed to have been able to eat meat as well.[3]


Where the Atlas bear actually originated from is unknown, one genetic study was unable to link it to any brown bear, but it had weak but significant mtDNA links to the polar bear.[1] Polar bears appear in Paleolithic cave paintings in Andalucia Spain, which is a very short swim to the Atlas Mountains for a polar bear.[5]

Breeding and reproduction[edit]

The Atlas bear's breeding and reproduction was similar to that of modern day brown bears. Females reach sexual maturity from 5–7 years of age, and the mating season is from early May to mid-July. The females mate once every 2 to 4 years. Due to the fact that females mate several times throughout the season, the males try to protect the females from other males for about 1 to 3 weeks after mating.[6] Although mating season is during the spring, the fetus doesn't begin development until the female enters winter dormancy, and this is due to the process of delayed implantation.[7] If, during the winter, the female doesn't have enough fat reserves, the embryo will not develop. Sometimes the embryo can attach to the uterine wall and will develop for eight weeks, after which the cubs are born. The mother is still hibernating, and the cubs are capable of suckling on their mother while she is still asleep. The mother's milk is very rich in fat, and by the spring time the cubs have gained enough weight to leave the den with their mother.[8] The cubs remain with their mother for the next two to four years, during which they learn skills such as hunting and defense.[9]

Social structure[edit]

The social structure for Atlas bears was also similar to that of modern day brown bears. They lived solitary lives, except during mating and cub raising. Males would generally have a few hundred square miles of territory, and females had slightly smaller areas. These ranges would be marked by scent, and they would urinate or rub their bodies against trees to convey information about their size and presence to other bears. Generally, adult males would be dominant or females with cubs would be dominant over younger males and females without offspring. Like modern brown bears, atlas bears would communicate through grunts and growls, sounds, movements, and also smells.[6]


The decline of the Atlas bear can be partly attributed to the Roman Empire, in that, as the empire expanded into Northern Africa, the Romans intensely hunted and captured the Atlas bear and many other animals and used them as sport for many of their games at that time. This went on for centuries in which during the time thousands of bears had been used in the arenas to fight in games against gladiators, lions, tigers and other animals. They were cruelly treated, often starved and malnourished to increase their desperation and hence their aggression within the arena.[10] Thousands of these bears were also hunted for sport, venatio games, or execution of criminals via ad bestias.[11] During modern times, firearms prior to about 1850 were inadequate to bring down the brown bear.[12] The Atlas bear became extinct shortly after modern firearms were developed. The decline and extinction of the Atlas bear can also be attributed to environmental changes. Their natural habitat, the woodlands, began to decrease and dry up and the desert also expanded during this time and process. This loss of their natural habitat played a role in their decline. Also continued over-hunting by surrounding tribes and people added on to their decline as well. And finally pressure from zoo collectors sealed the fate for the Atlas bear, with the animals being taken away from one another and unable to reproduce and flourish. The Atlas bear finally went extinct in the late 19th century. Human activity can definitely be said to have played a large role in pushing the extinction of the Atlas bear.[13] The possibility has been raised that the species might still be alive in eastern Africa, and is the source of the cryptid known as the nandi bear, but this hypothesis has essentially been ruled out by biogeography.[citation needed] Nonetheless, as the known distribution of the Atlas bear is a relict of the desertification of the Sahara,[citation needed] its ancestor may have been widespread in northern and eastern Africa in prehistoric times.


  1. ^ a b Calvignac, S.; Hughes, S.; Tougard, C.; Michaux, J.; Thevenot, M.; Philippe, M.; Hamdine, W.; Hanni, C. (2008). "Ancient DNA evidence for the loss of a highly divergent brown bear clade during historical times.". Mol. Ecol. 17: 1962–1970. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294x.2008.03631.x. 
  2. ^ a b Calvignac, Sebastien; Hughes, Sandrine; Hanni, Catherine (2009). "Genetic diversity of endangered brown bear (Ursus arctos) populations at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa". Diversity and Distributions 15: 742–750. doi:10.1111/j.1472-4642.2009.00586.x. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Atlas bear facts", Bob Strauss, 2014
  4. ^ Bruin: The Grand Bear Hunt, Mayne Reid, Ticknor and Fields, 1865
  5. ^ Pagano, A.M.; Durner, G.M.; Amstrup, S.C.; Simac, K.S.; York, G.S. (2012). "Long-distance swimming by polar bears (Ursus maritimus) of the southern Beaufort Sea during years of extensive open water.". Canadian Journal of Zoology 90: 663–676. doi:10.1139/z2012-033. 
  6. ^ a b "Bears of the Last Frontier, Hour One: City of Bears: Brown Bear Fact Sheet"
  7. ^ "The Animal Files- Brown Bear"
  8. ^ "Brown Bear- Ursus Arctos"
  9. ^ "The Animal Files-Brown Bear"
  10. ^ Ortega, Joseph J. "The Atlas Bear." PlanetEarthScience. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. <>.
  11. ^ Strauss, Bob. "Atlas Bear." About Education. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.
  12. ^ Storer & Tevis (1955). The California Grizzly. UC Press. 
  13. ^ The Great Bear Almanac. Guilford, CT, 1993, pg. 281.
  • Hamdinea, Watik; Thévenotb, Michel; Michaux, Jacques (1998). "Histoire récente de l'ours brun au Maghreb". Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences (in French) 321 (7): 565–570. doi:10.1016/S0764-4469(98)80458-7. 
  • Day, David (1981). The Doomsday Book of Animals: A Natural History of Vanished Species. Viking Press. pages 168-170 (includes illustration) ISBN 0-670-27987-0
  • "Bears of the Last Frontier, Hour One: City of Bears: Brown Bear Fact Sheet". Web. 23 Oct. 2014.
  • "The Animal Files". Web. 23 Oct. 2014.
  • "Brown Bear- Ursus Arctos". The National Park Service. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

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