Types of Russian Bear
Which types of bears live in Russia?
- Common: So numerous are the Eurasian Brown Bears in Siberia’s forests that they are simply referred to as “the common bear”. Plain, ol’ brown bears, they certainly aren’t however; they have the largest brains out of all terrestrial carnivores and, until the 20thcentury, could often be seen strolling round the streets of Russia playing musical instruments or smoking pipes with their trainers.
- Giant: Thanks to the bountiful streams of Russia’s Far East, the Kamchatka Bears are some of the world’s largest. Weighing up to 700kg, they can reach double the size of an average Brown Bear.
- Pitch-Black: On the borders of China and Russia roams a mythical bear. In the past, tribes used to worship it and to this day, Ussuri Bears have a close connection with humans—in the literal, not spiritual sense.
- Snowy-White: Polar Bears were all over the Russian news in 2019 when over 50 of them invaded a Russian village. Generally, however, they are furtive creatures with very little known about them.
Since the 16th century the bear has been the ultimate symbol of Russia. Representing both the good—strength, power and sheer might—and the bad—ferocity and club-footedness—it’s perhaps the only accurate likeness of the enigma that is Russia. Over the years it’s played many roles in Russian society; from an all-wise spirit god to be worshipped to a first-class fool, forced to drink wine and wear babushka scarves, to a symbol of wealth, ruthlessly hunted for its pelt, paws and organs. Though the accounts of early medieval European travelers (which sparked the myth that Russia was a country overrun with bears) may not have been wholly true, there is truth in the fact that the bear is an integral part of Russian culture.
A bear’s a bear...or is it?
It’s ironic that one of the biggest and clumsiest animals is actually one of the most mysterious animals known to man. To this day, scientists dispute the number of species of bear on this planet. In Russia, the most conservative classifications restrict the number of native species and subspecies to just four: the Eurasian Brown Bear, the Kamchatka Brown Bear, the Ussuri Brown Bear and the Russian Polar Bear.
Excepting the polar bear, the other bears are all subspecies of brown bear and - as their names suggest - their main distinguishing feature is the region which they hail from.
Eurasian brown bear
The Eurasian brown bear is the most populous of all the species. Though they can be found as south as Northern Iran and as north as the nether regions of western-Russia, the bulk of the population is concentrated east of the Ural Mountains, in the dense Siberian forests. So numerous are these brown bears in Siberia that they are simply referred to as the “common bear”. Despite their reputation, brown bears get less of their calories from meat than most people. Only 10-15% of a brown bear’s diet consists of prey, with the rest consisting of a colourful medley of berries, grasses, insects and anything else they can get their paws on. Bears are infamous food pinchers; their voracious appetites have led them into all sorts of trouble. Many campers and rangers have learned the necessity of locking up food the hard way but, even then, a padlocked cooler is child’s play for a hungry bear. Thanks to their long, tough claws, brown bears are the only bear capable ofdigging up starchy foods such as tubers, and they’ve been seen digging up entire beaches in search of crabs and clams! But though the majority of Brown Bears are about as innocuous as a hungry Labrador, there are a few individuals who deserve their fearsome reputation. These bears were taught by their mothers to charge at large mammals, such as elk and even young wolves, and tear them to bits while still alive.
The Kamchatka Peninsula is about as far east as you can get in Russia. This land of windswept tundra, rising volcanoes and frozen beaches is closer to Alaska than to Moscow. The bears over here too are closer to their gargantuan Grizzly kin across the sea than to the comparatively cuddly Brown Bears in Europe. Side by side, the Kamchatka bear is more than 1,5 times as heavy as a Eurasian Brown bear. Ice-cold streams brimming with a unique type of wild, blood-red salmon mean that Kamchatka bears can reach up to 650kg, making them by far the largest brown bear in Eurasia. Only the Kodiak bear in Alaska exceeds the Kamchatka bear in weight.
Ussuri Brown Bear
The Ussuri Brown Bear has always been close to the Russian people. In times gone by, it was worshipped as a deity. When an Ussuri bear came wandering into a village, as they often did in search of a tasty bite, the villagers would conduct a ceremonial killing. Everything, from the poor bear’s teeth to his blood and meat, were eaten, drunk or dried up to use as “medicine”. Though today the news may report of bears “terrorizing” villages, in those times, the villagers would save the pelt of the bear and pray to it in the hope that it might attract yet another bear into the village! More recently, female Ussuri bears and their cubs have repeatedly been discovered closely following local fishermen in the Shiretoko Peninsula, bordering China, where the Ussuri Bears are most densely populated. Companionship, not food, seems to be the mother bears’ only motive. Since the mother bears started coming closer to humans around fifty years ago not one instance of aggressive behaviour has ever been reported; and the Ussuri bears are almost as big as their close cousins, the Kamchatka giants! Zoologists theorize that the mothers seek humans so as to safe guard their cubs from cannibal males who wouldn’t dare to approach people.
The Polar Bear is perhaps the world’s most well know bear and is by far the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore, with some weighing more than a ton! Due to the fact, however, that the Arctic has yet to be thoroughly explored, little is known about these fluffy giants. What is known goes against all stereotypes. Although the polar bear is a sister species of the brown, they do not hibernate and fast, not during winter, but instead in late summer when the ice from which they hunt seals from has melted. Unlike brown bears, close-up selfies with wild polar bears can often be seen in the Russian Instagram sphere. The reckless Instagrammers know that unlike Brown Bears, satiated Polar Bears are unlikely to attack. However, when they are provoked Polar Bears have been known to devour humans, whereas Brown Bears tend to attack and flee. During the Cold War, the safeguarding of Polar Bears from hunting was just about the only thing the USSR and the USA could agree upon!
Grizzly bears vs Brown bears
Just like the Kamchatka, Ussuri and Eurasian bears, Grizzlies are a subspecies of Brown Bear. Surprisingly, they’re actually one of the smaller of the Brown Bears and are in many ways an American equivalent of the Eurasian Brown Bears. Just like the Eurasian, they can be found in thick, inland forests and mostly subsist off vegetation and insects. They weigh roughly two times less than the coastal Kamchatka and Kodiak bears. The only major difference is the number of people they manage to kill each year. On average, two people lose their lives to bears each year in America, whereas in the whole of Scandinavia only three people have died in the last 100 years! This is even stranger when one considers that Russia has the largest Brown bear population in the world-- 120,000-- compared to North America which only has 50,000.