Brown bears, sometimes called grizzlies, are among the biggest animals on earth. They grow particularly large in Kamchatka, in Russia’s far east, and on the coast of Alaska. They may grow to be 1,300 pounds and 10 feet tall.
What They Eat
Bears are omnivores, eating whatever they find in season. The vast bulk of their diet is plant material, but they also will eat fish, insects, and mammals. Salmon are a favorite food for bears on the coasts.
Where They Live
Very adaptable, brown bears range over large areas throughout northern Asia, Europe, and North America. With low human populations and a large supply of food, Russia’s Kamchatka has more brown bears per square mile than anywhere else.
What They Do
Especially in the far north, grizzlies put on up to 400 pounds of fat each summer. They use the extra weight to survive the winter asleep in their dens without food.
How They’re Doing
Brown bears used to roam across much of the northern hemisphere. Their range has decreased worldwide but the populations of the Russian Far East are among the strongest (about 30,000, with one-third of those in Kamchatka). Even here, poaching of bears and the salmon they eat threatens their future.
Where in the World
Height: up to 10 ft
Weight: up to 1,300 lbs
Lifespan: generally 15-20 years, up to 30 in captivity
Where at the Zoo
Sadie was an orphaned cub when she was found near a landfill in Kotzebue, Alaska, and rescued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Officials named her after nearby Sadie Creek. She spent her first two years at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) until she moved to the Minnesota Zoo in 2008.
Although born in Alaska, she and the other bears at the Zoo are the same species as the brown bears in nearby Russia.
How to Recognize Her:
Sadie is the smallest of the three bears.
Sadie started out as the dominant member of the group, despite her smaller size. She is feisty, independent, and playful.
A second bear cub found in July 2006 is nearly the same age as Sadie. This orphan was named “Haines” after he was found roaming the porches and yards near the town of Haines, Alaska. Shortly after being found, he joined Sadie at the AWCC.
How to Recognize Him:
Haines is hard to miss. He’s the darkest and largest of the three bears.
Since a very young age, Haines has been a particularly large bear. Despite his immense size, he’s said to have a calm and easygoing disposition. He gradually took on the role of the dominant bear in the group.
“Kenai” (pronounced kee-nye)
In September 2006 a third bear cub was found along the coast near Seward, on Alaska’s Kenai peninsula. He joined Sadie and Haines at the AWCC shortly after being found.
How to Recognize Him:
Kenai is the middle bear. He’s neither the darkest nor the lightest, the largest or the smallest. He likes to swim and fish a lot.
Kenai is the most submissive of the group, known as curious but and shy. Still, he regularly wrestles Haines, and when it comes time to new things he’s most likely to be the first to try them.
Care at the Zoo
Brown bears in the wild must respond to their environment to survive. Their environment constantly challenges them to use all five senses, to employ their minds, and to exercise their large bodies.
At the Minnesota Zoo, we encourage the bears to explore and respond to their environment for their physical, psychological, and behavioral fitness. The goal is to provide them with choices and opportunities to express behaviors that are appropriate to brown bears in the wild. Our commitment started with the planning for this exhibit and continues every day with a variety of activities.
Daily trainings encourage the bears’ ability to cooperate in their care. Presenting paws, standing upright, and showing teeth on cue all correspond to important veterinary procedures for checking their health.
Even before it was built, we designed features of the meadow to encourage behaviors you’d see in wild bears. These include the pool with fish, logs to move, and a digging pit.
Throughout the week, keepers move things around, give the bears a variety of toys to investigate, and provide food at random times to keep them on their toes with fresh surprises. A popsicle, for instance.
- A large female brown bear can weigh 770 pounds and a large male can weigh 1,300 pounds before winter.
- Thank salmon for the giant bears of Kamchatka. The fat salmon carry helps bears gain up to 400 extra pounds that they need to survive winter.
- More Americans die each year from bee stings (50 to 100) than from bears (about one every other year). When bears do attack people, it’s usually out of defense and territoriality.
- Brown bears have been successful around the world for hundreds of thousands of years. Respected, revered, and feared by humans, they figure large in the stories and beliefs of cultures worldwide.
- The brown bears of Kamchatka belong to the same species as those found in the United States. Brown bears originated 1.25 million years ago and migrated to North America across the Bering land bridge during the Pleistocene Ice Age.
- Brown bears and polar bears are tied as the world’s largest land-dwelling meat eaters. In America, we commonly call them grizzlies. In Russia, they’re all called burii medved.
On the Kamchatka peninsula, brown bears face threats from poaching and other human activities.
Things the Zoo’s done/doing
The Minnesota Zoo contributes funds to help the Wildlife Conservation Society study bears on the Kamchatka. It has also provided grants to help with brown bear conservation in Wyoming and Alaska.