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Syrian brown bear
photo: Shai Ben Ami
photo: Momi Bochbut
photo: Tibor Yagar
The bears living at the Zoo are just a remnant of a bear population that lived in Israel in the past, and was described in the Bible. The Biblical Zoo decided to focus on this sub-species to help relate the story of the dramatic change in the fauna living in Israel from Biblical times to the present day. The Syrian brown bear is the southernmost brown bear subspecies, and the smallest of the brown bear species. The Syrian brown bear also differs from other subspecies in its light coloring. These bears move nimbly, and despite their weight, they are good swimmers and aren’t bad at climbing trees, either. The familiar “bear hug” is possible thanks to the anatomy of the bear’s shoulder blades, which resemble those of a human, and allow the bear to climb trees and even take a few steps while walking only on their hind legs.
In the not too distant past, the inhabitants of this country were all too familiar with the bears, and occasionally, they even had the “privilege” of having their flocks of sheep attacked by them. The bears lightly hibernate, especially in colder regions. This hibernation does not always occur. It depends on the availability of food and the winter climate in the area they live in. The wintertime is also when females give birth to litters of cubs (between 1-3 cubs in a litter), in caves or recesses. Females mate with males the summer before.
Bears, which are nocturnal animals, disassociate after mating, and the male doesn’t help raise the cubs. The pregnant female delays the development of the fetus until late autumn, and only then will the fetus begin developing at full speed. In January and February, the female gives birth to her cubs, which weigh about 250 grams (about the weight of a stick of butter). The cubs stay with their mother in her den during the winter months, and this is when they become much heavier. In the spring, the female and her cubs exit the den to find an abundance of plant food and animals to hunt.
Watch this edition of the zoo's video journal with a story on the Syrian brown bear.
Name: Syrian brown bear
Scientific Name: Ursus arctos syriacus
Global Conservation Status: vulnerable
In Israel: extinct. The last individual was sighted on Mount Hermon in 1917.
At the Zoo: Albert, a male, and three females: Shoshana and her daughters Aliza and Shachar
In the Bible: The bear is mentioned many times in the Bible. “And two she-bears came out of the forest and tore apart forty-two of the boys.” (II Kings 2:24).
Habitat and Distribution: The mountainous regions of the Caucasus, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. In the past, the Syrian Brown Bear could also be found in the mountainous regions of Israel and in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. There are conflicting theories on whether the bear has existed here in recent years, and it’s unclear whether the species that exists in certain areas is this sub-species or a different one.
Body Structure: Height – 70-80 cm. Body Length – up to 2 meters. Body weight of males – 250-300 kg. Females can reach a weight of 100-150 kg. Despite their name, these bears’ fur can vary from light brown to white.
Diet: Omnivore Syrian brown bears are omnivorous, feeding on fruit, vegetables, seeds, leaves, insects, fish, meat and carrion
Social Structure: solitary
Activity cycle: Nocturnal. Sometimes active during the day
Threats in the wild: Hunting and habitat destruction.