Brown bear is the most widely distributed species of bear in the world. Its Holarctic range covers Europe, Asia and North America from the arctic tundra to dry and desert habitats. In the past, at least for the Holocene, brown bears have also been found in northern Africa, but it is not certain whether they survived there until the historical times.
The former European range of the species covered the whole continent, Britain, Ireland and Sicily. Historically, bears have been eradicated from most of Europe. With the proliferation of human populations, the range of bears has been increasingly limited to areas less accessible and far from human settlements.
In Western Europe there are currently only isolated isolated populations in the Cantabrian Mountains, Pyrenees, Apennines and the Italian Alps, whose numbers range from a few to several dozen individuals. A slightly better situation is the species in central and southern Europe, where bears are found in most of the mountain ranges, with the Carpathian populations of over 8,000 being the largest in the region.
Most numerous and most widely distributed is northern population (Kareliand and Scandinavian), ranging from Scandinavia through Finland and the European part of Russia to the Ural, where it connects to the range of North Asian populations that inhabited vast areas of Siberia to Chukotka, Kamchatka and the Korean Peninsula. In Central Asia the range of the species is more fragmented, reaching the Himalayas and Asia Minor. Brown bears inhabit also the islands of Sakhalin and Hokkaido. In North America, the current range of the species extends primarily to Alaska and western Canada. Historically, brown bears have also settled in much of the western United States and northern Mexico.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 brown bears live in the world today. The largest is the Russian population, which in 1990 was estimated at 125 thousand individuals, including about 36 thousand in the European part of Russia. In the United States (mainly Alaska) live about 33 thousand, Canada 25 thousand, and in Europe (without Russia) about 14 thousand of these animals.
Although the brown bear is a relatively numerous species, many small isolated populations are severely endangered, especially in Western Europe and Asia, on the southern outskirts of the world. In order to improve the status of some such populations, reintroduction programs were carried out in Italy, Austria and the French Pyrenees.
Of numerous studies on the current status of brown bears in Europe, we recommend the reports of the European Commission, developed by a team of experts in the field of research, conservation and management of large carnivore populations, i.e. “Status, management and distribution of large carnivores, lynx, wolves and wolves in Europe” edited by Composition: Petra Kaczensky, Guillaume Chapron, Manuela von Arx, Djuro Huber, Henrik Andrén and John Linnell.
The latest scientific study on, inter alia, the brown bear population in Europe is Chapron et al. 2014. Recovery of large carnivores in Europe’s modern human-dominated landscapes. Science, 346 (6216): 1517-1519. DOI: 10.1126 / science.1257553.