9 of the Oldest Bears of All Time

kodiak vs grizzly
© iStock.com/Jess Bray

Written by Drew Wood

Published: July 26, 2023

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Bears are many people’s favorite animals. It’s no surprise, as so many of us grew up with teddy bears that helped us feel safe and protected at night. Real bears look cuddly, but they are some of the largest carnivores on Earth. Living near bears can be dangerous, as they are capable of aggression. Close encounters can easily turn deadly, as one swipe of a massive paw or well-placed bite can end a person’s life. Bears can also live a long time: up to about 25 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity. The oldest bears of all time definitely pushed those limits. We’ve selected a few of the oldest for you to enjoy.

American Black Bear in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Bears, like this American black bear in Virginia, look cuddly, but they are deadly carnivores.

©Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.com

A Little About Bears

Where Do They Live?

Bears live in North and South America, Asia, and Europe. Atlas bears, a type of brown bear, lived in Africa from Morocco to Libya but went extinct there in the 1970s. So now, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica are the three continents with no bears (polar bears live in the Arctic, not the Antarctic). They are heavy, short-legged mammals related to dogs and raccoons. They’re great climbers and swimmers. They are omnivorous but the ratio of vegetation to meat they eat depends on what is available in their habitats. They’re renowned for hibernating, but actually, their hibernation is often light and fitful, so they can be woken up if disturbed in their dens during the winter.

How Many Species Are There?

There are eight species of bears:

Spectacled bear on grass

Another name for the Andean bear is the

spectacled bear

.

©Andrei Preda/Shutterstock.com

How Do Bears Interact with People?

Wild bears usually avoid people unless humans get too close to them, or if the bears have become accustomed to being fed by people or raiding their campsites and garbage. A bear can easily kill a person and may eat part of the body if they are hungry, so these massive carnivores are a genuine danger to hikers, hunters, and campers in bear territory. On the other hand, when a bear is raised with people from an early age, it can become gentle and affectionate. Of course, they are still wild animals that are never fully domesticated in the sense that a dog would be. When their wild instincts rise to the surface, they can still hurt their keepers.

How Long Do Bears Live?

Bears typically live up to 25 years in the wild, but in captivity, their lifespans can be doubled with an excellent diet and veterinary care. Below are some of the oldest bears on record.

Sun Bear Sleeping

Bears are excellent climbers. This is a sun bear, native to Southeast Asia.

©iStock.com/James Moore

1. Otis (25-27 years old)

A Bear with Personality

Otis is a famous brown bear whose age is estimated at 25-27 years. He was first identified at the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. He’s dark blonde and is easily recognizable from the scars on his neck and his floppy right ear. Clearly, he’s had a challenging life, as he’s also missing his two front canine teeth. Otis has a warm and friendly personality, likes interacting with other animals, and will give people nice, gentle bear hugs. He likes playing with toys like balls and stuffed animals (how do you find a stuffed animal durable enough for a bear, by the way?) He loves snacking on apples.

Four-Time Winner of “Fat Bear Week”

Fat Bear Week is an online contest to identify the fattest bear at the Brooks River in Katmai National Park in southern Alaska. During the lead-up to winter hibernation, bears fish in the river and males may gain as much as 300 pounds from mid-July to early October. Otis holds four Fat Bear Week titles!

A mature brown bear’s weight increases by as much as 300 pounds between midsummer and October.

©Steve Hillebrand, USFWS / Free to use CC0, Pixnio – Original / License

2. Grizzly 168 (37 years old)

Grizzly 168 is 37 years old. He lives in Yellowstone National Park. As you can tell from his name, he is a grizzly bear. Grizzlies are considered a subspecies of brown bears, not a separate species. Grizzly 168 has dark, almost black fur with a few white spots. One of his enduring quirks is that he loves playing with a tennis ball.

Adult Grizzly Bear In The Forest

Grizzly bears are one of the iconic species of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

©toseeg/Shutterstock.com

3. Bear No. 56 (39.5 years old)

Bear No. 56 was a black bear in Minnesota that had the distinction of being the oldest known bear living in the wild. She lived to be 39.5 years old, which was about 20 years longer than any other bear monitored in the state. Wildlife officials first spotted her in 1981 and fit her with a radio collar to track her movements. Over the course of her life, she produced 23 pups.

black bear

Bear No. 56 was a black bear like this one who lived an extraordinarily long life in the wild.

©iStock.com/Mandy Fuller Photography

4. Debby (41 years old)

Debby was the oldest known polar bear in the world and one of the three oldest bears of any species. She was born in the Soviet Union in 1966. After being orphaned, she was sent to Canada. She lived in the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, where she was popular for her friendly attitude toward people. Together with her mate, Skipper, she produced six cubs. Sadly, due to multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, she had to be euthanized in 2008 at the ripe old age of 41.

Female Polar Bear

Polar bears are large and dangerous carnivores, but Debby was known for her affectionate nature.

©GTW/Shutterstock.com

5. Brownie (56 years old)

The oldest grizzly bear of all time was named Brownie. He was an astounding 56 years old when he passed away. This is remarkable, considering grizzlies normally don’t live past 25 years in the wild. Brownie had been rescued from a brutal life in the circus where he had been taught to do tricks like riding a bicycle and doing somersaults for noisy, laughing crowds. We can only imagine the level of stress this caused an animal designed to live in the calm quiet of northern forests. In 1968, he was taken to Kansas Sunset Zoological Park and kindly rehabilitated. He was 14 at the time he arrived at the zoo and lived there for 42 years before his health declined so much that he had to be euthanized.

Grizzly bear

Grizzlies can live 25 years, but their lifespan can be extended with excellent nutrition and medical care.

©Perpis/Shutterstock.com

6. Gulabo (40 years old)

Gulabo was the oldest sloth bear in India. She had been a street performer before being rescued in 2006 and transferred to the Van Vihar National Park in Bhopal for rehabilitation. There, she lived out the rest of her life enjoyably, dozing in the sun and eating her favorite food, mangos. She could tell by her sense of smell when they were in season! Remarkably, she was intelligent enough to cut back on her oatmeal breakfasts so she could eat more mangoes at her afternoon feeding. Gulabo passed away at age 40 – significantly older than the typical 16-year lifespan of sloth bears in the wild.

Sloth bear

Gulabo, a sloth bear like this one, lived more than twice as long as the species normally does in the wild.

©Nagel Photography/Shutterstock.com

7. Shunan (32 years old)

Tsuyoshi was Japan’s oldest sun bear. He was born in Myanmar in 1987 and fathered three cubs in his lifetime that all, unfortunately, passed away just after their birth. He lived at the Tokuyama Zoo and became a national sensation in 2005 for his “disappointed” pose. After a female bear stole his food, he grasped his head with his paws in an all-too-human gesture of frustration. He died in 2022 at the age of 32. Experts estimate the normal lifespan for this species to be about 25 years.

Sun Bear

Tsuyoshi was a sun bear, like the adorable one pictured here.

©Molly NZ/Shutterstock.com

8. Jia Jia (38 years old)

Ocean Park, Hong Kong, was home to a female giant panda named Jia Jia. Humans discovered the homeless panda when she was about two years old. Her new home soon became the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China. She moved to Hong Kong in 1999 as a show of goodwill toward the territory after the handover of sovereignty by the British. Sadly, she suffered from high blood pressure, cataracts, and arthritis before she passed away. She died at age 38 as the oldest captive panda bear. Pandas normally live to about 20 years old in the wild.

Giant Panda Bear

Ocean Park, Hong Kong, was home to a female giant panda named Jia Jia.

©iStock.com/wrangel

9. Honey and Beezler (29 & 30 years old)

Honey and Beezler were a pair of Asiatic black bears who lived in Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado. They were sisters that arrived at the zoo when they were one-and-a-half years old. They were inseparable, often choosing to sleep together even when they had the opportunity to use separate sleeping spaces. Honey’s health began deteriorating in 2022, so her keepers had to euthanize her at 29 years old. Her sister Beezler survived and is currently the oldest Asiatic black bear ever recorded living in captivity. She is now 30 years old. Her keepers have carefully monitored her to help her adjust to the loss of her beloved sister.

Asiatic black bear

Asian black bears normally live up to 25 years in the wild.

©Tigger11th/Shutterstock.com

Who’s Your Favorite Senior Bear?

We covered nine senior bears, encompassing different species, different parts of the world, and different life stories. Which one captured your heart the most? If you would like to do more to help bears so even more will live long and healthy lives, consider volunteering to work with bears or donating to conservation organizations.


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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals focusing on mammals, geography, and world cultures. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Masters in Foreign Affairs (1992) and a Doctorate in Religion (2009). A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, movies, and being an emotional support human to four dogs.

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