Ussuri brown bear
|Ussuri brown bear|
|At the Noboribetsu Bear Park in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido|
U. a. lasiotus
|Ursus arctos lasiotus|
baikalensis Ognev, 1924
The Ussuri brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus), also known as the Ezo brown bear or the black grizzly bear, is a subspecies of the brown bear or a population of the Eurasian brown bear (U. a. arctos). One of the largest brown bears, a very large Ussuri brown bear may approach the Kodiak bear in size. It is not the same subspecies as the grizzly bear.
It is very similar to the Kamchatka brown bear, though it has a more-elongated skull, a less-elevated forehead, somewhat-longer nasal bones and less-separated zygomatic arches, and is somewhat darker in color, with some individuals being completely black, which once led to the now-refuted speculation that black individuals were hybrids of brown bears and Asian black bears. Adult males have skulls measuring on average 38.7 cm (15.2 in) long and 23.5 cm (9.3 in) wide. They can occasionally reach greater sizes than their Kamchatkan counterparts; the largest skull measured by Sergej Ognew (1931) was only slightly smaller than that of the largest Kodiak bear (the largest subspecies of brown bears) on record at the time.
Behaviour and biology
Although the diet of an Ussuri brown bear is mainly vegetarian, being a large predator, it is able to kill any prey in its habitat. In Sikhote Alin, Ussuri brown bears den mostly in burrows excavated into hillsides, though they, on rare occasions, den in rock outcroppings or build ground nests. These brown bears rarely encounter Ussuri black bears, as they den at higher elevations and on steeper slopes than the latter species. They may, on rare occasions, attack their smaller black relatives.
In middle Sakhalin in spring, brown bears feed on the previous year's red bilberry, ants, and flotsam, and at the end of the season, they concentrate on the shoots and rhizomes of tall grasses. On the southern part of the island, they feed primarily on flotsam, as well as insects and maple twigs. In springtime in Sikhote Alin, they feed on acorns, Manchurian walnuts, and Korean nut pine seeds. In times of scarcity, in addition to bilberries and nuts, they feed on larvae, wood-boring ants, and lily roots. In early summer, they strip bark from white-barked fir trees and feed on the cambium and sap. They also eat berries from honeysuckle, yew, Amur grapegrapevine, and buckthorn. In southern Sakhalin, their summer diet consists of currants and chokeberries. In August n the middle part of the island, fish comprise 28% of their diet.
In Hokkaido, the brown bears' diet includes small and large mammals, fish, birds, and insects such as ants. Recent increases in size and weight, reaching 400 kg (880 lb), or possibly up to 450 kg (990 lb) to 550 kg (1,210 lb), are largely caused by feeding on crops.
Non-aggressive interactions with humans
On Shiretoko Peninsula, especially in the area called "Banya", many females with cubs often approach fishermen and spend time near people. This unique behavior was first noted more than a half century ago, with no casualties or accidents ever recorded. The females are thought to take cubs to approach fishermen to avoid encountering aggressive adult males.
Interactions with tigers
Ussuri brown bears are occasionally preyed on by Siberian tigers, and constitute about 1% of their diet (and up to 18.5% together with Asian black bears in very particular cases). When preying on bears, tigers regularly target young bears, but adult female Ussuri brown bears are also taken outside their dens. Siberian tigers most typically attack brown bears in the winter in the bears' hibernacula. They are typically attacked by tigers more often than the smaller black bears, due to their habit of living in more open areas and their inability to climb trees. When hunting bears, tigers position themselves from the leeward side of a rock or fallen tree, waiting for the bear to pass by. When the bear passes, the tiger springs from an overhead position and grab the bear from under the chin with one forepaw and the throat with the other. The immobilised bear is then killed with a bite to the spinal column. After killing a bear, the tiger will concentrate its feeding on the bear's fat deposits, such as the back, legs and groin. Tiger attacks on bears tend to occur when ungulate populations decrease. From 1944 to 1959, more than 32 cases of tigers attacking bears were recorded in the Russian Far East. In the same period, four cases of brown bears killing female and young tigers were reported, both in disputes over prey and in self-defense. Gepnter et al. (1972) stated bears are generally afraid of tigers and change their path after coming across tiger trails. In the winters of 1970–1973, Yudakov and Nikolaev recorded 1 case of brown bear showing no fear of the tigers and another case of brown bear changing path upon crossing tiger tracks. Large brown bears may actually benefit from the tiger's presence by appropriating tiger kills that the bears may not be able to successfully hunt themselves and follow. During telemetry research in the Sikhote-Alin protected area, 44 direct confrontations between the two predators were observed, in which bears were killed in 22 cases, and tigers in 12 cases.
Range and status
The Ussuri brown bear is found in the Ussuri Krai, Sakhalin, the Amur Oblast, the Shantar Islands, Iturup Island, and Kunashir Island in Siberia, northeastern China, the Korean Peninsula, and Hokkaidō in Japan. Until the 13th century, bears inhabited the islands of Rebun and Rishiri, having crossed the La Pérouse Strait to reach them. They were also present on Honshu during the last glacial period, but were possibly driven to extinction either by competing with Asian black bears or by habitat loss due to climate change. There have been several hypotheses regarding the crossing of Blakiston's Line by brown bears; there could be three genetic groups, distinct for at least 3 million years which reached to Hokkaido via Honshu at different times, or brown bears from Hokkaido reached to Honshu.
About 500–1,500 Ussuri brown bears are present in Heilongjiang, and are classed as a vulnerable population. Illegal hunting and capture have become very serious contributing factors to the decline in bear numbers, as their body parts are of high economic value.
Five regional subpopulations of Ussuri brown bears are now recognized in Hokkaido. Of these, the small size and isolation of the western Ishikari subpopulation has warranted its listing as an endangered species in Japan’s Red Data Book. About 90 to 152 brown bears are thought to dwell in the West Ishikari Region and from 84 to 135 in the Teshio-Mashike mountains. Their habitat has been severely limited by human activities, especially forestry practices and road construction. Excessive harvesting is also a major factor in limiting their population. In 2015, the Biodiversity Division of the Hokkaido government estimated the population as being as high as 10,600.
In Russia, the Ussuri brown bear is considered a game animal, though it is not as extensively hunted as the Eurasian brown bear.
In Korea, a few of these bears still exist only in the North, where this bear is officially recognized as a natural monument by its government. Traditionally called ku'n gom (big bear), whereas black bears are called gom (bear), the Ussuri brown bear became extinct many years ago in South Korea largely due to poaching. In North Korea, the two major areas of brown bear population include Ja Gang Province and the Ham Kyo'ng Mountains. The ones from JaGang are called "RyongLim ku'n gom" (RyongLim big bear) and they are listed as Natural Monument No.124 of North Korea. The others from Hamkyo'ng Mountains are called GwanMoBong Ku'n Gom (GwanMo Peak big bear) and they are listed as Natural Monument No.330 of North Korea. All big bears (Ussuri brown bears) in North Korea are mostly found around the peak areas of mountains. Their average size varies from 150 kg to 250 kg for Ryonglim bears found in the area south of Injeba'k Mountain, up to 600 kg for the ones found in the area north of Injeba'k Mountain.
Historic ranges (in dark red) adjacent to Japanese archipelago
A bear walks by the surf on Shiretoko Peninsula
Attacks on humans
In Hokkaido during the first 57 years of the 20th century, 141 people died from bear attacks, and another 300 were injured. The Sankebetsu brown bear incident (三毛別羆事件, Sankebetsu Higuma jiken), which occurred in December 1915 at Sankei in the Sankebetsu district was the worst bear attack in Japanese history, and resulted in the deaths of seven people and the injuring of three others. The perpetrator was a 380 kg and 2.7-m-tall brown bear, which twice attacked the village of Tomamae, returning to the area the night after its first attack during the prefuneral vigil for the earlier victims. The incident is frequently referred to in modern Japanese bear incidents, and is believed to be responsible for the Japanese perception of bears as man-eaters.
From 1962 to 2008, 86 attacks and 33 deaths occurred from bears in Hokkaido.
Ussuri brown bear in the Iomante ceremony
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