Words Bassam Alkantar

Even though Lebanon has witnessed many environmental tragedies on more than one level, especially in terms of biological degradation, in the last week of 2016 a video recorded a unique and distinctive historic event of a documented brown Syrian bear walking in the barren areas of the eastern chain of Lebanon’ mountains, specifically in the barren mountains of the town of Nahleh (District of Baalbek). According to the available information, a group of young men recorded a videotape, showing a female Syrian brown bear with her cub in the Lebanese territory on the snow. Fouad Itani, a photographer who specializes in documenting wildlife, states that the video was recorded by a group of young people on the night of December 29, 2016.

The Executive Director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, Assad Serhal, confirms that the return of the Syrian bear to Lebanon, when it is confirmed conclusively, is a historic event and a very positive index, as the nearest point where this kind of bear is seen is about 500 kilometers away from the Turkish border. Serhal, who published last year in partnership with Saeed al-Khuzai, the book The Field Guide of Mammals in the Middle East, adds that there are about sixteen subspecies of brown bear in the world and this one used to occur widely in the Mediterranean area. The chairman of the association “Animal Counter” in Aley, Dr. Munir Abu Said, stated that “if this video is real and the brown bear is really spotted in the Lebanese territory it would be the first time in 58 years, because the last time it was spotted in Lebanon was in 1958.”
The brown bear has a body length of about 153 centimeters, a small tail of
3.5 centimeters, a shoulder height of
82 centimeters, and a weight of around 170 kilograms, relatively smaller than other subspecies. This subspecies of bear is characterized by the light yellowish color of its fur. It has a powerful body structure and strong muscles. It has a very short tail with short heavy legs (the hind legs are longer than the forelegs). Each wide paw has five toes ending in sharp claws. It has short round ears, small eyes, and powerful jaws.

Habits of the brown bear
Brown bears inhabit caves and are known for their tendency to roam at night, covering considerable distances. They can live in high, snow-covered mountainous areas, hibernating during the winter. Those bears that live in warmer areas do not hibernate.
The female bear is sexually mature at three years of age. After a gestation period of seven months she gives birth in spring to two cubs, which are dependent on their mother for a year or more. The life span of this bear is between 15 and 30 years.
Bears are omnivores, feeding on grass, roots, grain, berries, fruit, fish, insects, and carrion. They will attack cattle and other domestic and wild animals, particularly in spring when they wake up ravenous after hibernation. Bears also like to feed on chickpeas during the spring and can devastate an entire field. In late summer bears also feed on grapes, and they love honey.

Referring to the appearance of the bear in Lebanon in late 2016, Serhal says, “It’s probably that this bear was trying to move to a safe area, especially since the Lebanese-Syrian border is experiencing sporadic battles as a result of the war in Syria.” The presence of the cub with his mother means that he was born in the spring of 2016 or the previous year because the female does not take care of its young for more than two years.