Probable Atlas bear in Roman mosaic
|Range||Atlas, Morocco, and Libya.|
|Species|| Ursus arctos|
Ursus arctos crowtheri
The Atlas bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri) is an extinct subspecies of the brown bear, which is sometimes classified as a distinct species.
Range and Description
The Atlas bear was Africa's only native bear that survived into modern times. Once inhabiting the Atlas Mountains and neighbouring areas, from Morocco to Libya, the animal is now thought to be extinct. The Atlas bear was brownish black in colour, and lacked a white mark on the muzzle. The fur on the underparts was reddish orange. The fur was 4–5 inches (100–130 mm) long. The muzzle and claws were shorter than those of the American black bear, though it was stouter and thicker in body. It apparently fed on roots, acorns and nuts.
Thousands of these bears were hunted for sport, venatio games, or execution of criminals ad bestias following the expansion of the Roman Empire into North Africa (began in 146 CE by creation of Africa, completed in 44 AD/CE by annexation of Mauretania). The last known specimen was probably killed by hunters in the 1870s in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco, although reports still surface. The possibility has been raised that the species might still be alive in eastern Africa, and is the source of the cryptid known as the nandi bear, but this hypothesis has essentially been ruled out by biogeography. Nonetheless, as the known distribution of the Atlas bear is a relict of the desertification of the Sahara, its ancestor may have been widespread in northern and eastern Africa in prehistoric times.