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The Natural History and Evolution of Bears

2 min read
The Natural History and Evolution of Bears

While many people embark on a wildlife holiday, how much do they know about the animals they’re hoping to see? You can get so much more from a wildlife holiday experience if you have at least some knowledge before you go. If you’re heading off on a trip hoping to catch some sightings of the magnificent bear, here is some information on the lifestyle, behaviours and history of this fascinating mammal.

The Natural History of the Bear

Fossils found in China dating back 500,000 years offer clear evidence that the Ursus arctos (the bear) has been around for more than a million years. Brown Bears once inhabited large areas in Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America. The Grizzly Bear, a subspecies of the Brown Bear, probably ended up in North America after crossing the Bering Land Bridge from Asia into Alaska. Up until 1850 there was a large population of Grizzlies in Alaska and Canada, but today numbers have dwindled. Only around 1,000 now live in North America and around 15,000 in Canada. It has been the encroachment of human activity as well as hunting that has led to these animals becoming endangered. Thankfully, a new appreciation of their plight is helping to preserve their habitat and their species.


Today we understand much more about the bears, and on a specialised wildlife holiday you will have the chance to learn some incredible facts. These animals are intelligent, have a strong sense of smell, good hearing and excellent sight. They are also very adaptable; in Alaska, the bear has evolved to accommodate the fact that glaciers have receded and they need to survive on open ground, coastal areas, in rain forests and in mountain country. They have even evolved to survive on sea ice. DNA evidence has shown that bears on the ABC islands in Alaska are actually closely related to Polar Bears, more so than to Brown and Black Bears. This in turn leads experts to believe that one subspecies of the Grizzly, from which Polar Bears and the ABC Bears descended, moved to live in the ice fields, learnt to hunt for food, and eventually evolved into the Polar Bear.

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Today in Alaska, safe havens have been created for these animals that were once considered terrifying killers. Katmai National Park, Pack Creek, and Anan Creek, for example, offer people on wildlife holidays the chance to get up close to them in their natural habitat. Anyone who has experienced it cannot dispute that seeing one of these noble creatures in the wild is one of the most spectacular sights on Earth.

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