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Can Bears Climb Trees?

Watching some YouTube videos recently on bears, I found that some people left comments asking if bears could climb trees. While most are excellent climbers, not all are.

The American black bear is especially fast at climbing, climbing 20 meters in under 10 seconds. Grizzly bear cubs can also climb, but most adult brown bears can’t due to their size and weight. Polar bears are the only bears that cannot climb trees.

In this article, I answer some questions I have seen about the climbing abilities of bears.

Brown bear cubs climbing up a tree

Why Do Bears Climb Trees?

Bears climb trees to help them stay safe from predators and to rest and play. Bears will also climb trees to reach food. American black bears will climb trees for fruit, bird eggs, cactus fruit, honey, acorns, and berries.  

Some young brown bears will climb a tree to chase prey, such as smaller mammals. If they can smell food, most likely manmade, adult grizzly bears may also try climbing the tree to reach it.

American black bears will also climb trees to escape predators and reach safety. Cubs of black bears can be sent up the tree by the mother to keep them out of reach of predators.  

How Do Bears Climb Trees?

Black bears are excellent at climbing and use all four legs. They push their bodies up with their hind legs while pulling and gripping using their front legs and claws.  Some do this extremely quickly, making it look like they are walking up the tree. The claws of the American black bear are hooked, which helps them grip the tree.

Brown bears are usually too heavy to pull themselves up using their front and hind legs, using branches to help them. They use the branches as a ladder, with the branches used as steps to climb the tree. Although not the best climbers, brown bears can climb trees with low branches.  

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How Do Bears Climb Down Trees?

Bears climb down the same way they go up the tree, with their heads at the top.  Bears have been seen to climb down trees in a walking fashion and slide down or jump down from lower elevations.

Some mammals, such as squirrels, are experienced at climbing down trees. Squirrels come down headfirst, with their bodies and tail behind them. Bears, although good climbers, climb down like they go up a tree.

How Fast Can Bears Climb?

The American black bear is extremely quick at climbing and can easily outclimb a human. Black bears can climb almost 20 meters in about 8 seconds. This can be seen in the video below. They can climb down almost as quickly.

Can Bears Climb Faster Than They Run?

The black bear is an excellent climber and can climb very fast. However, because they are going against gravity and have to pull themselves up, they cannot climb as fast as they can run. An American black bear can run up to 48 km/h but cannot climb as fast.

A brown bear can run at speeds up to 56 km/h, but they are not good climbers. Grizzly bears cannot climb as fast as they run.

Ever wondered if you can outrun a bear? Find out in this article I have written here

What Bear Is The Best Climber?

The sun bear is the most agile bear when it comes to climbing. Although not the quickest, they can climb almost any diameter tree.

The sloth bear is not only one of the most dangerous bears but also one of the best climbers. They can climb up smooth poles as well as trees with bark. The sloth bear is unique as it jumps short distances up the tree, gripping with its claws.

The American black bear is one of the quickest climbers, climbing up to 20 meters in 8 seconds, and can descend almost as quickly.

Do you know how to identify bear scat? Find out how here? (if you really want to)

Can The American Black Bear Climb Trees?

Black bears are excellent climbers. They can climb at incredible speeds, and you would not be able to get away from a black bear by climbing a tree.

Black bears use all four legs to push themselves up the tree, gripping with their hind legs and pulling themselves up using their front legs. They use their claws, which are hooked, to grip the tree as they climb up and down.

American black bears climb trees to escape predators and reach safety. The mother often sends her cubs up a tree if they sense a predator is close.

If you see a black bear, do not try to escape by climbing a tree.

I have written a complete guide to black bears, which you can find here

Can The Grizzly Bear Climb Trees?

Large adult bears of some species lose their ability to climb trees as they age. Brown bears can climb trees when they are cubs, but their size and weight increase as they age. Adult brown bears cannot climb trees with the added weight like they could when young.

Brown bears are also not good at climbing trees due to other physical drawbacks. Besides being larger than American black bears, brown bears do not have the same hook-shaped claws. Their claws are long and sharp, which makes it difficult for them to grip the tree.

Brown bears also have fixed wrist joints and paws that turn inwards. Their paws have bare patches that are rough but can get easily damaged. Grizzly bear cubs, however, are excellent climbers.

Although not the best climbers, brown bears can climb, and some adults have been seen at heights of up to 6 meters.  

If trying to escape a brown bear, it is not a good idea to climb a tree.

Brown bears have a varied diet. Find out more here

Can Polar Bears Climb Trees?

There are many species of bears, and all climb trees, except for polar bears. The polar bear, found in the Arctic, does not climb trees. This is mainly due to their enormous size and weight but also because there are few trees to climb, even if they could.  

Although polar bears cannot climb trees, they are excellent at climbing the terrain in their environment. Polar bears use their claws and immense power to traverse terrain up to 30-35 feet high and jump down gaps of 10 feet without injuring themselves.

Can The Andean Bear Climb Trees?

The Andean bear, found in South America, is a great climber. The Andean bear spends more time in trees than any other bear species. This species can climb large, thick trees and smaller trees, branches, and even vines.

The evolution of bears is very interesting. Find out more here

Can The Asiatic Black Bear Climb Trees?

The Asiatic black bear climbs trees for food and also to escape predators. However, they are unique as they also hibernate in trees. As with grizzly bears, Asiatic black bears can become too heavy as they get older to climb easily.

Can The Giant Panda Climb Trees?

The giant panda is a black and white bear found in China. The giant panda is not a good tree climber and has often been described as clumsy.

Unlike other bears, giant pandas climb trees using their hind legs to push up before using their front legs, appearing almost caterpillar-like. Giant pandas only climb trees to escape predators.

If you have ever wondered why bears are mammals, you can find out in this article

Giant panda climbing tree

Can The Sloth Bear Climb Trees?

Sloth bears are among the best climbers out of all the bear species. They can climb smooth poles as well as trees with rough bark. Sloth bears are known as the most dangerous bear in the world.

Sloth bears are also unique in the way they climb. Unlike other bears that pull themselves up, sloth bears jump short distances up the tree before hooking their claws in.

The sloth bear can be found in India and Sri Lanka. The sloth bear hangs upside down in trees, similar to sloths in Central and South America.

Can The Sun Bear Climb Trees?

The sun bear is the king of climbing bears. Sun bears are agile and quick, climbing for food but also to rest. The cubs are better at climbing trees than when on the ground for the first few months.

The sun bear has large claws, which hook into the branches, hanging their bodies away from the trees to rest.

Click here to find out which National Parks you can see bears here

References and Further Reading

Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 39, Issue 4, 20 – Adult brown bears climb trees

Scientific American – Climbing Bears Help Plants Keep Cool

Forest Service USDA – Bears