Wow! These bears are huge! They’re not the teddy bears you played with as a kid. Some may look cute and cuddly but these big furry creatures definitely aren’t. Keep your distance, especially if you encounter one in the wild. Most of us will generally see them only in zoos though, and these largest bear species of the world are definitely worth a visit. You probably won’t find all the bears in all the zoos; your best chance of seeing some bears may be in its native country.
The sun bear is native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, it’s known as the Malayan honey bear due to its fondness for the sweet sticky substance. The sun bear is the smallest bear, topping out at about 176 pounds and about five feet tall. They have short black fur with light-colored muzzles, with the white area extending above the eyes. The bear has powerful jaws and claws. It is declining in numbers due to deforestation of its habitat.
The giant panda is the model for cute and cuddly. It’s roly-poly with a white face and body surrounded by black fur around its neck, legs and ears. Unlike other bears, the panda is basically vegetarian, with bamboo making up 99 percent of its diet. The panda is native to the mountains of southcentral China, particularly Sichuan Province. These chubby bears have a girth up to six feet in diameter and weigh up to 250 pounds. They are an endearing symbol of China.
The sloth bear, which evolved from the brown bear in the Pleistocene period, is native to the Indian subcontinent. It’s a nocturnal insect-eating bear with a lower lip designed to suck the bugs in. The sloth bear is lankier than the Asian black bear, with longer fur, pale muzzles with bulbous snouts and white claws. They weigh up to 290 pounds and can be as high as 6 feet. They have been known to attack humans who invade their territory.
Asian black bears don’t like humans very much, understandable since man hunts them for body parts and traditional medicines. They’re found in mountainous regions of Asia, from Taiwan and northeastern China to the northern Indian subcontinent and the Russian Far East. The Asian black bear also is known as moon bear or white-chested bear because of the V or half-moon shaped white fur on their chest. They’re a medium-sized bear (average 6 feet tall and 300 pounds) that resembles prehistoric bears. They walk upright more than other bears.
The spectacled bear got its name because rings around its eyes make it look like it’s wearing eye glasses. A medium-sized bear, the spectacled bear is the only bear native to South America. Although it’s considered a meat eater, meat makes up only about 5 percent of the spectacled bear’s diet. Its fur is generally black, but can also be brown or reddish shades. It can be found in the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains, mainly in South America’s northern and western regions.
The American black bear is the smallest bear species on the North American continent, but is the most commonly found anywhere from Alaska to Florida and from California to Canada’ Maritime Provinces.. They prefer forested habitat and sometimes attached themselves to human communities because of the easy availability of food – they are the garbage dump scavengers. Maybe that’s where they learned to open screw-top jars. The American black bear evolved from the sun bear thousands of years ago.
The Eurasian brown bear also is known as the European brown bear where it can be found in the mountainous regions of northern Europe, but as far south as the Pyrenees. The largest population can be found in the Siberian forests. The bear was hunted to extinction in Britain by 1000 AD. Ancient Romans used to watch these bears fight in arenas. The bear sports long shaggy hair in various shades of brown. This bear was the inspiration for the names of two constellations, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
They don’t make scary movies about this bear for nothing. The grizzly bear’s Latin name, Ursus horriblis,means “terrifying bear.” The grizzly also is known as the silvertip bear because its gray-tipped hair, and sometimes as the North American brown bear, as it’s the same species. Whatever you call it, it’s ferocious and huge – males weigh almost 800 pounds and stand more than 6 feet tall. Grizzlies range in color from blond to almost black, but typically are brown. They have a distinguishing hump on their shoulders.
The Ussuri brown bear is one of the largest brown bears, and is sometimes known as the black grizzly. They are indigenous to Russia northeast Asia. On the Shiretoko Peninsula on Japan’s Hokkaido Island, females with cubs stay near fishermen, reportedly to avoid adult male bears. Their population is declining in northeast China where they’re hunted for body parts, but they’re considered national monuments in North Korea. They’ve been known to attack and even kill humans, while they themselves are occasionally turned into dinner by Siberian tigers.
The Kamchatka brown bear, the largest bear in Eurasia, is basically found in the Kamchatka area of Russia and surrounding islands as well as Alaska’s Saint Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. It’s one big bear, sometimes standing as high as 9 feet and weighing almost 1,500 pounds. It is believed to be the ancestor of the Kodiak bear. Depending on the season, they dine on berries, nuts, and, preferably, fish they catch themselves. They rarely attack humans, but are trophy bear for Russian hunters.
The Kodiak bear, the largest brown bear in the world, is native to Alaska’s Kodiak islands. Big doesn’t begin to describe its size: some weigh 1,500 pounds and almost 10 feet tall when standing upright, even though they eat the same foods as other brown bears. They are usually brown but can be golden; young bears have a white ring around their necks for a few years. And, yes, they do attack humans, though humans are more prone to attack them.
The polar bear, along with the Kodiak bear, is the largest bear species in the world. It’s the same size as the Kodiak bear, only it’s white instead of brown. The polar bear lives primarily north of the Arctic Circle, where they’ve adapted to live in the frozen north. They’re born on land but spend most of their life on sea ice, with seals making up the bulk of their diet. They’re considered a vulnerable species since climate change is melting their habitat.