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Distribution area of the brown bear in Switzerland according to their SCALP category in 2019. Red = category 1, “hard facts”; blue = category 2, confirmed reports; green = category 3, non-verifiable reports © KORA GIS

There is no resident population of brown bears in Switzerland. Nevertheless, there are a number of records every year originating from animals that immigrated from Italy. However, sooner or later they always emigrate again. Generally, the immigration occurs through the canton of Grisons. Since the first re-occurrence in 2005, there have been reports of bear observations from the cantons of Bern, Grisons, Lucerne, Nidwald, Obwald, Schwyz, Ticino, Uri and Valais.

Bear records are also presented in the Monitoring Center.

Distribution area of the brown bear in Switzerland 2005-2018

Travel route of bear M29 in Switzerland

Alps & Dinaric mountains

Bear distribution in the Alps and Dinaric mountains between 2012 and 2018 based on a 10×10 km grid. Green = permanent presence with reproduction (recorded within the last 3 years), orange = permanent presence (recorded in at least three years of the study period), yellow = sporadic presence (recorded in fewer than three years of the study period. The dark line indicates the core zone, the blue line the expansion zone, grey lines indicate country borders. © LIFE DINALP BEAR

The project LIFE DINALP BEAR researches the bear population in the Dinaric mountains and the Alps. The core area of the population lies in southern Slovenia and in Croatia up to the border to Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well as in the western Trentino. The expansion zone of the population is found in the border triangle Slovenia-Austria-Italy up to the eastern Trentino. The majority of the population is found in the Dinaric mountains. They are the main source for dispersers into the expansion zone and the source for all relocations, e.g. to the Trentino. The population in the Trentino was strengthened by a translocation project between 1999 and 2002. The occurrence within the expansion zone is limited to dispersing young males, with the exception of the Julian Alps in Slovenia, where some females were also observed.


Monitoring and management are traditionally organised by the individual countries. However, all viable bear populations expand over international boundaries. The network Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, an IUCN/SSC specialist group, periodically collects the most recent data on the status, management and distribution of the carnivores in Europe.

Earlier surveys:

Distribution of the brown bear in Europe

Distribution of the bear in Europe based on a 10×10 km grid and data from 2012–2016. Dark green = permanent presence (presence confirmed in at least 3 of the 5 years, or reproduction confirmed within the last 3 years), light green = sporadic presence (presence confirmed in less than 3 of the 5 years), grey = presence without detailed information. No data was available from country areas coloured white. © LCIE


The brown bear was formerly found over almost the entire northern hemisphere, from Arctic tundra to subtropical environments. It’s remarkable adaptability allows the species to live in very different environments: forests, steppes, rugged mountains and the arctic tundra. The increasing human population with resulting large-scale habitat degradation in combination with direct persecution, turned the brown bear in Europe mainly into a forest dweller and led to the extinction of the populations in large parts of its ancient distribution range.

Global distribution of the brown bear

The spatial distribution of the brown bear extends over most of the Northern Hemisphere. Black dots: Extinct; green shading: probably present; red shading: present. © IUCN Red List 2017


The brown bear Ursus arctos belongs to the bear family Ursidae whose ancestors descended from small arboreal mammal predators that evolved 25 million years ago. Its direct ancestor was the Etruscan bear Ursus etruscus which was widespread in Europe according to the fossil record and went extinct about 11,000 years ago.

There are several subspecies of Ursus arctos, differing, amongst other things, in size. Those in colder climates are generally larger and heavier than those in warmer climates. Two subspecies in North America, the grizzly Ursus arctos horribilis and the Kodiak bear Ursus arctos middendorffii, are the largest. The European brown bear Ursus arctos arctos, which also occurs in Switzerland, is clearly smaller than its American relatives.

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