Bears are animals that appear considerably in motion pictures, games, and literature. They’re often depicted as friendly and sweet anthropomorphic characters, notably in Winnie the Pooh, Paddington, and The Jungle Book.
Like the entertainment industry, toy companies give children the impression that bears are friendly and cuddly animals with the manufacture and sale of teddy bears. Unfortunately, in reality, the temperament and behaviors of bears differ significantly from what entertainment and toy companies typically portray.
Bears are in no way friendly to humans; neither are they cuddly. The most peaceful bears avoid us, while the dangerous ones will attack if provoked. Annually, there are about 40 bear attacks around the world.
Considering these realities, this article reveals the world’s most dangerous bears. This piece also highlights real-life bear attacks and plausible causes/triggers.
A Quick Outlook on Bears
Bears are large short-tailed mammals of the family Ursidae. Eight species are found in America, Asia, and Europe and are absent from Africa and Australia.
Although seemingly clumsy, bears are incredibly fast. They’re also strong swimmers, especially the polar bear, while some are good climbers.
Generally, bears are omnivorous in nutrition, consuming both plant- and animal-based diets. Still, the polar bear is a pure carnivore, preying on animals, such as seals and walruses.
Conversely, the giant panda is a herbivore that feeds on only bamboo.
Bears hunt for food with their keen sense of smell as their sight and hearing are poorly developed.
Fun Fact — Bears are typically quiet and don’t communicate with sound. However, they growl occasionally when feeding, when another bear or humans challenge them, and when contending for mates.
Although male polar bears aggregate at times, bears are typically solitary creatures, except during the pairing season. They assemble, form pairs, and mate in isolation. After mating, the males abandon the females and play no role in bringing up the young.
The gestation duration varies in bears. Notably, the fertilized egg remains sedentary in the uterus. This phenomenon guarantees the birth of the young while the female bear is in the winter den, ensuring the emergence of the cubs in the sound when food is in surplus.
The lifespan of wild bears ranges from 15 to 30 years. Regardless, bears in captivity can live reasonably longer.
Bears have few natural predators in the wild, thanks to their large size. Hunting by humans is the cause of most bear deaths.
Furthermore, bears that fail to amass sufficient fat for the winter season may die of starvation.
Bear cubs are more prone to attacks and predation due to their smaller size. Consequently, carnivores, including wolves, mountain lions, and other bears, kill young bears.
Interaction Between Humans and Bears
Some humans take young bears and tame them, without much difficulty, for circus animal acts. This penchant has caused people to regard bears as gentle and harmless creatures instead of potentially dangerous beasts treated with caution and respect.
Frequently, this negligence has resulted in casualties for both humans and bears. Some bear species attack and kill humans, while others prey on livestock and destroy fruits and crops, primarily corn.
7 Most Dangerous Bears
From the Arctic polar bear to the Chinese giant pandas, we’ve compiled a list of the seven most formidable bears on the globe.
The world’s most dangerous bears include:
- Grizzly bears
- Polar bears
- Kamchatka brown bears
- Sun bears
- American black bears
- Giant pandas
- Sloth bears
We’ll individually examine each of these species in the following sections.
1. Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Grizzly bears are a North American brown bear subspecies. They once inhabited most of western North America until European civilization and forceful hunting annihilated most of their population.
Today, they’re found in the northern and western parts of the US and Canada, and Alaska. Typically, they’re brown, though their fur may come off white-tipped or grizzled, the latter giving them their name.
The grizzly bear is a powerful apex predator that feeds on other animals, ranging from rodents to moose. Still, this gigantic creature’s diet mainly comprises nuts, fruits, berries, and roots.
Fun Fact — Grizzly bears can run up to 30 miles per hour, despite their massive size.
Grizzlies can be immensely dangerous and aggressive to humans, especially when disturbed or if people come between a mother grizzly and her cub.
Their remarkable size is the primary reason they pose a significant danger to humans. Grizzly bears have a total length of 6.5 feet on average and weigh up to 600 pounds. Worse still, they have frightening, powerful jaws and extended claws.
Grizzly bears aren’t the best climbers due to their large size and ineffective claws. So, instead of fleeting in the face of a threat, they stand their ground to fight or attack the enemy themselves. As they are territorial creatures, they prioritize protecting their domain and cubs.
They’re easily distinguishable by their signature brown fur, which shows white, gray, or even golden tips. If you come across a massive bear of this appearance, don’t think twice before fleeing in a fast vehicle, if it’s nearby, or playing dead. Failure to escape or trick the animal may result in a fatal encounter.
Occurrences of Grizzly Bear Attacks and Explanations
On most occasions, grizzlies only pursue and attack humans if they perceive them as menaces. However, bears often scour places where they smell food.
This inclination was among the primary causes of the sad 1967 Glacier National Park event when two young women died from grizzly-inflicted injuries in the named park. Today, people tend to stay away from places prone to grizzly bear attacks.
Unfortunately, grizzly attacks have become rampant in recent times. Notably, grizzly bears killed John Wallace and Brian Matayoshi, just two months apart, in 2011. These attacks were the first casualties caused by grizzly bears in Yellowstone park in 25 years.
Most times, the authorities order the hunting and killing of the grizzly bears responsible for the attacks. Still, it’s better to be wary of these highly dangerous giants, as killing them won’t bring you back to life if the worst happens. Despite all these, the grizzly bear fatality rate is rising in the United States.
2. Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus)
Polar bears are enormous white-coated hypercarnivores that primarily occupy the Arctic Circle. They’re the largest existing bear species and gigantic land carnivores, measuring 7.25–8 feet in head and body and weighing between 900 and 1600 pounds.
Although closely related to brown bears, they’ve evolved to inhabit a narrower ecological space. Additionally, they’re adapted for cold climates, hunting preys, mainly seals, and moving through the ice, snow, and open waters.
Polar bears are powerful swimmers, possessing large slightly-webbed front paws, which they use to paddle. They also float on ice sheets, covering a considerable distance from the land up to hundreds of miles.
Fun Fact — The thick white fur of polar bears insulates them from the cold environment they occupy. Polar bears also have a warming layer of fat and fur on the bottom of their paws, protecting them against cold surfaces. Surprisingly, they have black skin underneath their white coat.
Although polar bears are elegant and attractive, they’re powerful predators that express no fright for humans. This inclination makes them potentially dangerous and aggressive. In addition, they usually develop a taste for trash near human territories, bringing them into risky proximity with humans.
Several observations suggest that polar bears are constantly migrating southwards to find new food sources and a safer home due to climate change. This movement presents a significant threat to humans.
Since they don’t fear man, they’ll hunt humans, catch them, and eat them. While running away may be the first instinct of someone who encounters a polar bear, it’s virtually impossible to outrun these bears.
The most effective solution against polar bear attacks is avoiding contact with them, even their cubs. Fighting them isn’t helpful either because a single paw strike from a polar bear can kill a human.
Events and Causes of Polar Bear Attack
Before now, polar bear attacks on humans were sporadic because these white-coated giants live in icy regions. However, the current movement of polar bears down south often results in human encounters. Many of these clashes end in human deaths, as polar bears are aggressive apex predators.
The Wildlife Society Bulletin indicates that between 1870 and 2014, there were 73 polar bear attacks. These resulted in 63 human injuries and about 20 human fatality cases.
In addition, the most significant frequency of polar bear attacks in four years occurred between 2010 and 2014. A polar bear approached Aaron Gibbons and his children in Sentry Island, Nunavut, fatally attacking and injuring the 31-year-old man in 2018.
In some regions like Wales and Alaska, the residents have formed polar bear patrols due to the rising polar bear attack cases. Their goal is to drive off polar bears that get too close to human settlements by utilizing various non-deadly restraints. These patrol teams have been credited and lauded for preventing a couple of considerable amounts of polar bear attacks.
3. Kamchatka Brown Bears (Ursus arctos beringianus)
Kamchatka brown bears are subspecies of brown bears that inhabit Russia and other parts of the Far East. Named after the Kamchatka peninsula, they’re also known as Far Eastern brown bears.
Kamchatka brown bears are giant brown bears in Eurasia, measuring 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) and weighing 1,430 pounds. They typically have dark brown fur with a violet tint.
Far Eastern brown bears are omnivores, consuming berries, humpback salmon, marine mammals, and nuts. Their average life span ranges from 20 to 30 years in the wild.
Still, they can live up to 50 years in captivity. Their females can start breeding as early as four years old.
Quick Fact — Kamchatka brown bears are usual targets of trophy hunting in Russia and are among the most valued trophies. The Kamchatka Department of Wildlife Management handed out 500 hunting permits in 2005, with the clients paying as much as $10,000 to hunt Kamchatka bears. Hence, the recreational hunting of these bears has significant impacts on the economy.
Even though some individuals consider them non-dangerous, these creatures, mistaken for gigantic brown teddy bears, can be aggressive if provoked, especially when protecting their cubs. They’re also awfully territorial and unpredictable; one can’t gamble against their deadly attacks.
Incidents of Kamchatka Bear Attacks and Motives
Compared to grizzlies and polar bears, Kamchatka bear attacks are rare, as the latter prefers avoiding contact with humans. Yet, the continuous expansion of human settlements into their natural territory has heightened the connection between both species. Kamchatka brown bears are highly protective of their territories, causing them to charge against the intruders.
Brown bears have become problematic in Romania, with their attacks causing over three deaths in less than a month. In addition, some Romanians report that these bears steal farm animals and wreak havoc on local towns.
Romania and several neighboring countries intend to promote bear hunting as a prophylactic measure. Meanwhile, Finland seeks bear-friendly solutions to facilitate a peaceful coexistence between humans and bears.
One of the worst cases of Kamchatka bear attacks occurred in the Olyutorsky District of Russia in July 2018 when 30 famish bears laid siege to a platinum-mining compound and killed two guards.
The continual surge of the human population and poaching are contributing to the displacement of Far Eastern brown bears and driving them into contact with human settlements. Thus, our activities put us at risk of more tragic Kamchatka bear attacks.
4. Sun Bears (Helarctos malayanus)
This bear species constitute the smallest members of the bear family that occupy South East Asia’s dense lowland forests. Their geographic range extends from southern China to eastern India and southward to Indonesia.
Shy in nature, they derive their name from the bib-shaped white or golden patch on their chest, a symbol that signifies the rising sun in legends.
A full-grown sun bear is about half the size of an American black bear. The males, who’re a little bigger than the females of the species, weigh 150 pounds and have a length of 5 feet. Their size suits their arboreal behavior and enables them to move through trees quickly.
Other features of sun bears include:
- A stout, muscular build
- Small ears
- A short muzzle
- A sleek black coat that prevents overheating in tropical weather
- Long claws, which exceed four inches in length.
- A long tongue for taking out honey from beehives
Somewhat contrary to what their name suggests, sun bears are nocturnal omnivores that forage on the following:
- Small birds
Furthermore, sun bears are among the fiercest bear species despite their relatively small size. Although they’re remarkably dangerous to humans, they don’t have a zest for human flesh.
Occurrences of Sun Bear Attacks and Causes
Even though they don’t prey on humans, sun bears can attack without instigation. Sun bear attacks were responsible for at least 33 deaths in Mizoram, India, between 2000 and 2010.
Worse still, their attacks are persistent, meaning it’s tough to evade their attacks when they begin to charge at you. In 2017, a sun bear attack continued for almost an hour and was only interrupted when several locals teamed up to chase the bear away.
Experts suggest that sun bears will become more contentious and venture out of their natural habitat in search of food due to the ongoing deforestation for oil palm farms. This shift will result in more frequent contact between sun bears and humans, leading to more fatalities on both ends.
Constant hunting by poachers is one proposed cause for the aggressiveness shown by sun bears towards humans. Poachers believe the sun bear is entirely valuable, including its meat, claws, fur, teeth, and gallbladder. However, the declining population of sun bears doesn’t stop them from being significant threats to humans.
5. American Black Bears (Ursus americanus)
This bear species is the most prevalent in North America. They mainly live in the woods, where they effortlessly climb trees and inhabit mountains and swamps.
Despite their name, black bears don’t only come in shades of black. Some are blue-gray, blue-black, cinnamon, brown, or white on very few occasions.
They’re about 5–6 feet long, and their weight ranges between 200 and 600 pounds.
Bears are opportunistic omnivores that feed on the following:
Additionally, black bears quickly acquire a taste for human foods and trash.
Fun Fact — Bears that become used to human food at campgrounds, countryside homes, or cabins can become dangerous to humans and are frequently killed. This trend gave rise to the famous saying: Please don’t feed the bears!
These medium-sized bears aren’t as dangerous as grizzly and polar bears. Typically, they evade a potential threat by climbing a nearby tree rather than attacking. Nonetheless, the few black bear attacks on humans have often been fatal due to their sharp claws and teeth.
It may be shocking to know that while playing dead may help you evade grizzly bear attacks, such acts don’t trick black bears. Climbing a tree is also ineffective as black bears are excellent tree climbers. Thankfully, if you happen to be with bear spray, it can be helpful against a black bear attack.
Events of American Black Bear Attacks and Reasons
Black bear attacks are sporadic and are usually similar to a clash with a dog. In North America, deaths due to black bear attacks occur once per year. Some studies reveal that more than 63 human deaths resulted from about 59 black bear attacks between 1900 and 2009.
The Smithsonian Magazine suggests that most black bear assaults occur in their northernmost territories. The relative food scarcity in the northern region may have made the bears more aggressive. In addition, northern bears aren’t as familiar with humans as their southern counterparts, thus increasing their hostility to humans.
The relative rarity of black bear attacks on humans doesn’t prevent such encounters from leading to casualties when they occur. For instance, in 2019, a black bear killed a woman in Red Pine Island, Ontario.
This tragic event marked the first bear attack in the locality in almost 15 years. Even though the bear responsible for the attack is dead, other potentially dangerous black bears reside in the area.
6. Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
Giant pandas are bears native to China. These mammals, also known as panda bears, inhabit bamboo forests in central China’s mountainous regions.
Distinguishable by their black and white coat, round face, and bulky body. Unfortunately, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species proposes that less than 1,900 panda bears exist in the wild.
Enormous males may reach 6 feet (1.8 meters) and weigh more than 220 pounds (100 kilograms). The females are usually smaller.
Other characteristics of giant pandas include:
- Round black ears
- Black eye pouches
- White face and neck
- Black shoulders, limbs, legs, and tail
- White torso
Fun Fact — Reminiscent of Master Po Ping from Kung Fu Panda, giant pandas can easily stand on their hind legs and are typically seen rolling, somersaulting, and dust-bathing.
Though quite clumsy climbers, pandas frequently ascend trees. Like other bears, they may also be capable of swimming.
Panda bears possess a distinct anatomical feature, an enlarged wrist bone similar to a thumb, facilitating food handling with ample dexterity. They’re herbivores and feed almost entirely on bamboo.
Panda bears are typically timid and don’t attack humans or animals without provocation. Still, they have a remarkable bite that can mutilate or even kill potential threats. So, it’s best to avoid threatening them or encroaching into their territories as this can incite them to attack the enemy.
Cases of Panda Attacks and Causes
Although panda attacks in the wild are pretty rare, captive panda bears have been recorded in multiple episodes. There are three cases of pandas attacking humans entering their enclosure at the Beijing City Zoo, China, between 2006 and 2009.
In one of those events, the panda didn’t release the victim’s leg despite numerous attempts to extricate the victim from the bear’s grip. It was until a zookeeper came into the scene that the victim could escape with several scratches.
During one attack, a Chinese man, Guan Quanzhi, fell victim to the incredible bite of a giant panda during an attack. He was bitten in the leg and required seven hours of surgery to keep his leg. Guan later sued the local authorities and received $80,000, covering his medical expenses.
The victims underestimated the pandas and thought they were harmless creatures most of the time.
7. Sloth Bears (Melursus ursinus)
Sloth bears are nocturnal, reclusive members of the Ursid family native to South Asia, including India, Sri Lanka, and the southern parts of Nepal. They have particularly jagged black fur and a cream-colored snout.
With a length of 6 feet, the males of the species can weigh up to 310 pounds, while the females weigh 210 pounds. Their chest is generally marked with a white “V” or “Y” imprint.
They predominantly feed on ants and termites, using their elongated, curved claws to infiltrate the nest mounds and a gap in their front teeth to suck the insects after blowing away excess dirt.
Fun Fact — When sloth bears perceive a threat, they stand on their hind legs and flash their formidable foreclaws at the enemy.
Though human flesh isn’t part of their diet, they’re dangerous to individuals. Their long, curved sharp claws can easily rip human flesh apart. Their canines are also sharp enough to maim or even kill humans.
Incidents of Sloth Bear Attacks and Motives
Sloth bear attacks are quite prevalent, particularly in the Mysore region of India. In 1957, the infamous Sloth Bear of Mysore killed 12 people and injured 30 others in several attacks.
The bear was often aggressive when encountering individuals and usually wrecked their faces. The sloth bear completely ripped victims’ faces off their skulls in some cases.
Kenneth Anderson, a British hunter, spent over a month tracking down the Sloth Bear of Mysore before finally killing it. During its time, it became the deadliest bear in India and even developed a taste for human flesh, partially eating at least three of its victims.
Aside from the Sloth Bear of Mysore, bear attacks are pretty common in India. Some researchers even believe that sloth bears are the world’s deadliest bears.
However, since there are no sufficient official documents to ascertain this claim, one can simply wonder how many individuals these bears have killed. We can only say for sure that sloth bears have attacked thousands of people in the last century, with hundreds of the encounters resulting in human fatalities.
Most Dangerous Bears in the World: FAQs
Are black bears dangerous?
Yes, black bears are dangerous, especially after acquiring a taste for human foods. Several times, they’ve attacked humans and even killed the victim on some occasions.
Why are polar bears so dangerous?
Polar bears are extremely dangerous because of their enormous size, large paws, and tendency not to be scared of humans.
Are polar bears the most dangerous bear?
Though polar bears are very deadly and powerful, grizzlies have given humans a cause to regard them as the most dangerous bears.
Which bear is the most dangerous, black or brown?
Brown bears, notably the grizzly bear, are more dangerous than black bears. There are more cases of brown bear attacks than black bear assaults.
What is the most dangerous bear in North America?
Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) are the most dangerous in North America, charged with multiple attacks on humans and casualties.
Bears are impressive but dangerous giants that should be respected and treated with caution. Thankfully, specific measures can help you survive a bear attack.
While playing dead works against grizzlies and some brown bears, it’s ineffective against black bears and other species. Your best bet is to back off slowly as running away can prompt the bear to chase you, and it’s almost impossible to outrun a bear, even if you’re Usain Bolt.
Always have a bear spray with you when residing in or visiting bear-populated regions, as it can be the only thing that prevents you from death in a potentially lethal bear attack.