The Atlas Bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri) is an extinct species of Brown Bear, very similar in size and appearance to the American Grizzly Bear, which once roamed across vast swaths of Northern Africa, making its home in the once forested slopes of the Atlas Mountains, from which its English name derives. It was Africa's only native species of bear.
The populations of the Atlas Bear were first significantly diminished during Roman times when the Romans captured thousands of these bears to be slaughtered in gladiatorial games. In later years the bears were further decimated by deforestation of their mountainous homelands and by the desertification of the Sahara, which drastically reduced their natural habitat, and by overhunting by humans.
By the 19th century, the bears' range had shrunk to a tiny area in the immediate vicinity of Mount Atlas in Morocco. As late as the early 1830s, the bears were still plentiful enough to be regularly captured and sent to European zoos, but by the 1840s they had become almost impossible to find, to the point where some European writers were already wondering if they were extinct.
The last Atlas Bears are believed to have been hunted to extinction by Berber tribesmen in the 1870s.
Back to the Dictionary of recently extinct animals