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The Ussuri brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus), also known as the black grizzly is a population of the brown bear. One of the largest brown bears, Ussuri brown bears approach the Kodiak brown bear in size.

Appearance

It is very similar to the Kamchatka brown bear, though it has a more elongated skull, a less elevated forehead, somewhat longer nasal bones and less separated zygomatic arches, and is somewhat darker in color, with some individuals being completely black, a fact which once led to the now refuted speculation that black individuals were hybrids of brown bears and Asian black bears. Adult males have skulls measuring 38.7 cm (15.2 in) long and 23.5 cm (9.3 in) wide. They can occasionally reach greater sizes than their Kamchatka counterparts: the largest skull measured by Sergej Ognew(1931) was only slightly smaller than that of the largest Kodiak brown bear (the largest subspecies of brown bears) on record at the time.

Behaviour and biology

On Shiretoko Peninsula, especially in the area called "Banya", many females with cubs often approach fishermen and spend time near people. This unique behavior was firstly noted more than a half century ago, with no casualties or accidents ever recorded. It is speculated that females take cubs and approach fishermen to avoid encountering adult males.

Dietary habits

In Sikhote Alin, Ussuri brown bears den mostly in burrows excavated into hillsides, though they will on rare occasions den in rock outcroppings or build ground nests. These brown bears rarely encounter Asian black bears, as they den at higher elevations and on steeper slopes than the latter species. They may on rare occasions attack their smaller black cousins.

In middle Sakhalin in spring, brown bears feed on the previous year's red bilberry, ants and flotsam, and at the end of the season, they concentrate on the shoots and rhizomes of tall grasses. On the southern part of the island, they feed primarily on flotsam, as well as insects and maple twigs. In springtime in Sikhote Alin, they feed on acorns, Manchurian walnuts and Korean nut pine seeds. In times of scarcity, in addition to bilberries and nuts, they capture larvae, wood-boring ants and lily roots. In early summer, they will strip bark from white-barked fir trees and feed on their cambium and sap. They will also eat berries from honeysuckle, yew, Amur grapevine and buckthorn. In southern Sakhalin, their summer diet consists of currants and chokeberries are eaten. In the August period in the middle part of the island, fish comprise 28% of their diet.

In Hokkaido, the brown bear has a diet including small and large mammals, fish, birds and insects such as ants. Recent increases in size and weight, reaching 400 kg (880 lb), or possibly up to 450 kg (990 lb) to 550 kg (1,210 lb), are largely caused by feeding on crops.

Interactions with tigers

Ussuri brown bears are occasionally preyed on by Siberian tigers, and constitute about 1% of their diet (and up to 18.5% together with black bears in very particular cases). Siberian tigers regularly prey on young bears but adult female Ussuri brown bears are also taken outside their dens as well. Siberian tigers most typically attack brown bears in the winter in the bear's hibernaculum. They are typically attacked by tigers more often than the smaller black bears, due to their habit of living in more open areas and their inability to climb trees. When hunting bears, tigers will position themselves from the leeward side of a rock or fallen tree, waiting for the bear to pass by. When the bear passes, the tiger will spring from an overhead position and grab the bear from under the chin with one forepaw and the throat with the other. The immobilised bear is then killed with a bite to the spinal column. After killing a bear, the tiger will concentrate its feeding on the bear's fat deposits, such as the back, legs and groin. Tiger attacks on bears tend to occur when ungulate populations decrease. From 1944 to 1959, more than 32 cases of tigers attacking bears were recorded in the Russian Far East. In the same period, four cases of brown bears killing female and young tigers were reported, both in disputes over prey and in self-defense. Gepnter et al. (1972) stated bears are generally afraid of tigers and change their path after coming across tiger trails. In the winters of 1970–1973, Yudakov and Nikolaev recorded 1 case of brown bear showing no fear of the tigers and another case of brown bear changing path upon crossing tiger tracks. Despite the possibility of tiger predation, some large brown bears may actually benefit from the tiger's presence by appropriating tiger kills that the bears may not be able to successfully hunt themselves and follow. During telemetry research in the Sikhote-Alin protected area, 44 direct confrontations between the two predators were observed, in which bears were killed in 22 cases, and tigers in 12 cases.

Range and status

The brown bear is found in the Ussuri krai, Sakhalin, the Amur Oblast, northward to the Shantar Islands, Iturup Island, northeastern China, the Korean peninsula, Hokkaidō and Kunashiri Island. Until 13th century, bears inhabited the islands of Rebun and Rishiri, having crossed the La Pérouse Strait to reach them. They were also present on Honshuduring the last glacial period, but were possibly driven to extinction either by competing with Asian black bears or by habitat loss due to climate change. One of three genetic groups, being distinct for at least more than 3 million years and respectively reached to Hokkaido on separate periods through different routes, entered Hokkaido through Honshu.

About 500–1,500 Ussuri brown bears are present in Heilongjiang, and are classed as a vulnerable species. Illegal hunting and capture has become a very serious contributing factor to the decline in bear numbers, as their body parts are of high economic value.

Five regional sub-populations of Ussuri brown bears are now recognized in Hokkaido. Of these, the small size and isolation of the western Ishikari subpopulation has warranted its listing as an endangered species in Japan’s Red Data Book. 90 to 152 brown bears are thought to dwell in the West Ishikari Region and from 84 to 135 in the Teshio-Mashike mountains. Their habitat has been severely limited by human activities, especially forestry practices and road construction. Excessive harvesting is also a major factor in limiting their population.

In Russia, the Ussuri brown bear is considered a game animal, though it is not as extensively hunted as the Eurasian brown bear.

In Korea, a few of these bears still exist only in the North, where this bear is officially recognized as natural monument by its government. Traditionally called Ku'n Gom (big bear), whereas black bears are called Gom(bear), the Ussuri brown bear became extinct many years ago in South Korea largely due to poaching. In North Korea, there are two major areas of brown bear population: including JaGang province and HamKyo'ng Mountains. The ones from JaGang province are called RyongLim Ku'n Gom(RyongLim big bear) and they are listed as Natural Monument No.124 of North Korea. The others from Hamkyo'ng Mountains are called GwanMoBong Ku'n Gom(GwanMo Peak big bear) and they are listed as Natural Monument No.330 of North Korea. All big bears(Ussuri brown bears) in North Korea are mostly found around the peak areas of mountains. Their average size varies from 150 kg to 250 kg for Ryonglim bears found in the area south of Injeba'k Mountain, up to average of 500 kg to 600 kg for the ones found in the area north of Injeba'k Mountain.

Attacks on humans

In Hokkaido, during the first 57 years of the 20th century, 141 people died from bear attacks, and another 300 were injured. The Sankebetsu brown bear incident (三毛別羆事件 Sankebetsu Higuma jiken?), which occurred in December 1915 at Sankei in the Sankebetsu district was the worst bear attack in Japanese history, and resulted in the deaths of seven people and the injuring of three others. The perpetrator was a 380 kg and 2.7 m tall brown bear, which twice attacked the village of Tomamae, returning to the area the night after its first attack during the prefuneral vigil for the earlier victims. The incident is frequently referred to in modern Japanese as bear incidents, and is believed to be responsible for the Japanese perception of bears as man-eaters.

Cultural associations

The Ainu people worship the Ussuri brown bear, eating its flesh and drinking its blood as part of a religious festival known as Iomante.

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