Phonetic: Ur-sus ark-tos krow-fe-ree.
Named By: Heinrich Rudolf Schinz - 1844.
Classification: Chordata, Mammalia, Carnivora, Ursidae.
Species: U. arctos crowtheri.
Size: No larger than a black bear, which are known to range from 120-200 centimetres long, 10-105 centimetres high at the shoulder.
Known locations: The Atlas Mountains of north Africa. Especially well known from Morocco.
Time period: Holocene, possibly going extinct at some point in the late nineteenth century.
Fossil representation: Numerous fossils. Records exist of living bears.
Atlas bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri) is today
considered to be an
extinct sub species of the brown bear (Ursus arctos);
researchers think that it should be treated as a distinct species in
its own right. The Atlas bear seems to have been the last of the
African bears (Agriotherium
lived much earlier),
and the only one so far known to have been naturally exclusive to the
African continent. Though a relative of the huge brown bear, the
Atlas bear is actually noted as being smaller than the black bear
(Ursus americanus). The coat of long ten to
twelve centimetre long
hair was a dark brown almost black on top, but red-orange
underneath. Both snout and claws are reported as being
proportionately shorter than the black bear. The Atlas bear seems to
have been mostly herbivorous with reports suggesting it fed upon the
more nutritious parts of plants such as roots, nuts and even acorns.
However as a group bears are noted as being omnivorous, and while
many have a predilection towards one kind of food over another, Atlas
bears would have likely been biologically capable of eating meat as
As with far too many animals the Atlas bear seems to have gone extinct entirely from human contact, especially from such activities as trapping and hunting. The atlas bear was known to the Romans, who according to historical reports, captured large numbers of these bears to fight in gladiatorial arenas, either against professional hunters, or pitted against criminals that were punished by being thrown to wild animals. Some Roman mosaics also depict creatures which may well represent Atlas bears. In 1830 the king of Morocco had at least one Atlas bear living in captivity and also that year supplied a bear to the Zoological garden of Marseille which then became the holotype of the species. The last Atlas bear to be killed by hunters is often reported to have been killed in 1870 in the Tetuan Mountains. Today the Atlas bear is officially recorded as being extinct, probably disappearing in the late nineteenth century.
Despite this however, sightings of bear-like animals are sometimes reported in regions where the Atlas bear used to live, with some speculating that it maybe the mythical ‘Nandi bear’. Unfortunately however, no bodies or other evidence (hair, scat, dens, etc.) of still living bears have so far been found. Assuming that the sightings are genuine, then it’s possible that they could simply be cases of mistaken identity.
- Ancient DNA evidence for the loss of a highly divergent brown bear clade during historical times. - Molecular Ecology 17 (8): 1962–1970. S. Calvignac, S. Hughes, C. Tougard, J. Michaux, M. Thevenot, M. Philippe, W. Hamdine & C. Hanni - 2008.