Syrian brown bear

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Syrian brown bear
Ursus arctos syriacus.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. arctos
Subspecies: U. a. syriacus
Trinomial name
Ursus arctos syriacus
Hemprich & Ehrenberg, 1828
Syrian Brown Bear Distribution.PNG

caucasicus Smirnov, 1919
dinniki Smirnov, 1919
lasistanicus Satunin, 1913
meridionalis Middendorff, 1851
persicus Lönnberg, 1925
schmitzi Matschie, 1917
smirnovi Lönnberg, 1925

The Syrian brown bear (Ursus arctos syriacus) is a relatively small subspecies of brown bear native to the Middle East.[1]

Evolutionary history[edit]

A genetic study shows that all brown bears occurring in the Caucasus at least matrilineally are monophyletic and belong to the Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos).[2]


A Syrian brown bear in Heidelberg Zoo, Germany.

The Syrian brown bear is one of the smaller subspecies of brown bears, although brown bears as a group are among the largest type of bears, only second to polar bears. Adult males have skulls measuring approximately 30 – 40 cm. The Syrian brown bear weighs up to 550 pounds (250 kg) and measures from 101 – 140 cm from nose to tail. It is overall the smallest bear of the Ursus arctos species.

Fur color is usually very light brown and straw-coloured. The hair on the withers is longer with a grey-brown base and is often a different shade than the rest of the body, seen in some individuals as a dark stripe running across the back. The lighter colors usually appear at higher altitudes. Their legs are commonly darker than the rest of their body. It is the only known bear in the world to have white claws.

Populations from the Caucasus, whose ranges was thought to belong to Ursus arctus syriacus and to overlap those of Eurasian brown bears, belong indeed to this nominal subspecies, as they are larger in size and darker. In the past some naturalists proposed that Caucasian bears belonged to hybrid populations between Eurasian and Syrian brown bears, but the genetic studies show that all populations in the Caucasus are pure Eurasian brown bears.[2] It was thought that these mixed bears originated during the Holocene when Syrian bears supposedly migrated northward and interbred with the larger northern bears. Today that hypothesis is considered by experts as wrong.[citation needed]

Habitat and distribution[edit]

A Syrian brown bear in Lar National Park, northeast of Mount Damavand, Iran.

Generally found in the mountainous areas throughout its home range, the Syrian brown bears seem to den and hibernate in caves and tree hollows of the birch forests, which are found at higher elevations than pine and other trees. Outside of hibernation these bears tend to forage for food in grasslands, meadows, forests and have been known to enter mountain villages to feed on grains and nuts.[3]

Within the former Soviet Union, it occurs in Turkmenistan.[4] Outside the ex-USSR, it occurs in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.[5][6] It is extinct in Israel, and, more recently, in Syria. A few Syrian brown bear still exist in the border between Lebanon and Syria [5]


Like many large mammals, the Syrian brown bear population is declining due to habitat loss, and poaching. They are a popular target for big game hunters in Asia.[7] In addition, bear bile (ursodeoxycholic acid) is a valuable commodity because of its use in traditional Chinese medicine as an assumed cure for rheumatism, poor eyesight and gall stones.[8]


This silver commemorative coin depicting the Trans-Caucasian grey bear has been issued by the Central Bank of Armenia under the International Program "Wild World of Caucasus".


The Syrian brown bear is the bear mentioned in the Bible. The protectiveness of a mother bear towards her cubs is cited proverbially three times (2 Sam. 17:8; Prov. 17:12; Hos. 13:8) in the Hebrew Bible.[9]


Among the huge variety of troops serving at Monte Cassino, probably the strangest was a bear from Iran, called Wojtek. Raised by and enlisted into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps, he carried artillery shells during battle.


  1. ^ Masseti, M. (2009). Carnivores of Syria In: E. Neubert, Z. Amr, S. Taiti, B. Gümüs (eds.) Animal Biodiversity in the Middle East. Proceedings of the First Middle Eastern Biodiversity Congress, Aqaba, Jordan, 20–23 October 2008. ZooKeys 31: 229–252.
  2. ^ a b Murtskhvaladze, M.; Gavashelishvili, A.; Tarkhnishvili, D. (2010). "Geographic and genetic boundaries of brown bear (Ursus arctos) population in the Caucasus". Molecular Ecology. 19: 1829–1841. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04610.x. PMID 20345670. 
  3. ^ Lydekker, R. 1996. The Great and Small Game of India, Burma, and Tibet. Asian Educational Services.
  4. ^ Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol.II Part 1a, SIRENIA AND CARNIVORA (Sea cows; Wolves and Bears), V.G Heptner and N.P Naumov editors, Science Publishers, Inc. USA. 1998. ISBN 1-886106-81-9
  5. ^ a b Genetic diversity of endangered brown bear (Ursus arctos) populations at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  6. ^ The Mammals of Iraq. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  7. ^ Первый американский русскоязычный интернет-магазин товаров для охотников. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  8. ^ GALL and the BILE inside. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
  9. ^ George Cansdale, "Bear", in Merrill C. Tenney (ed.), The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 1 (Zondervan, 2010).

External links[edit]