Scientific Name: Ursus arctos syriacus
IUCN Red List status: Data Deficient
The Syrian Brown Bear is one of the smallest of the many Brown Bear subspecies, weighing up to 250 kg. The largest subspecies, the Kodiak Bear of Alaska, is almost three times as heavy. Its fur is noticeably lighter than other Brown Bears, tending to be a pale greyish-brown, whitish-blonde or straw colour. Some individuals can also exhibit darker fur near the shoulders, a dark stripe running down the back, or a dark brown patch on the top of the head. It also has the distinction of being the only bear in the world to have white claws.
Information on this subspecies is sparce, but it is thought to follow an omnivorous diet of fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, plants, grasses, insects and small mammals, with crops and livestock also on the menu if the bear enters agricultural land. Mating is believed to occur between May and July, with cubs born in a winter den (usually a cave or tree hollow) in January or early February.
The Syrian Brown Bear is now extinct in Syria, Israel, Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula, and survives today in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Turkmenistan. It lives in mountainous areas where it can be found foraging in forests, grasslands and meadows.
Threats and Conservation
The exact population of Syrian Brown Bears is unknown. In Armenia, where WLT partner FPWC operates, one expert from WWF-Armenia has provided a “guesstimate” of 400-600 individuals. The IUCN have identified isolated subpopulations of <50 bears on Armenia’s Aragat Mountain (classified as Critically Endangered) and <250 bears spread across southern Armenia, eastern Armenia and northwestern Iran (Endangered). Bears are listed as Vulnerable in the National Red Data Book of Armenia. FPWC’s Caucasus Wildlife Refuge provides over 30,000 ha of protected habitat for the Syrian Brown Bear, and the presence of cubs in the reserve is a positive sign for the continued survival of the subspecies here in Armenia’s Ararat and Vayots Dzor regions. Bears are a protected species in Armenia but threats do remain, chiefly from poaching and habitat destruction for mining and quarrying. FPWC staff and rangers are actively engaged in bear conservation in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, apprehending poachers and working with local communities to reduce human-wildlife conflict. In 2020, FPWC received an Environment and Conservation Award from International Animal Rescue, in recognition of their efforts to rescue and rehabilitate bears in Armenia. FPWC’s rescue centre houses bears liberated from squalid cages in private residences and public entertainment venues where they are kept as a tourist attraction. FPWC provides the bears with a safe sanctuary, allowing them to live side by side with other bears, providing the requisite veterinary checks and rehabilitation that will prepare them mentally and physically for a return to the wild.