While hunting in the Kamchatka Peninsula in 1987, Russian hunter Rodion Sivolobov was given something quite unusual and rarely seen, the giant white skin of an unknown bear. It was after receiving this unknown skin that Sivolobov spent the next decade researching what the locals called, the Irkuiem.
First, some quick background information on the location where the skin was found. The Kamchatka Peninsula is a 780mi long, three sided island in the Russian far east with a surface area of around 100,000sq mi. The peninsula is home to around 322,000+ residents, contains 160 volcanoes, and generally has a subarctic climate. In 1945 after WWII, the Soviet army declared the entire area a war zone and closed it off completely to all citizens until 1989. The peninsula provides home to tundra wolves, arctic foxes, the Siberian lynx, wolverines, reindeer, moose, and snow sheep. It is also where the gigantic and elusive Irkuiem makes it home, right alongside the native Kamchatka Brown Bear.
The skin that Sivolobov received in 1987 (and later sent to a museum in St. Petersburg) was described as resembling that of an extremely oversized polar bear (even though polar bears are not native to the region), but the reindeer farmers who provided the pelt were very adamant the skin was not from a normal bear in the region but rather from a bear that was much larger and much more aggressive than the regularly seen Kamchatka Brown Bear. The Irkueim is believed to weigh around 1.5 tons (3,000lbs), is nearly 6ft tall at the shoulders while on all fours, and almost 12ft tall while on just its hind legs. It is covered in very short white fur and has a small head in proportion to the rest of its body. Its back legs are said to be smaller than its front legs and because of this, the Irkueim walks and runs in a very distinct way. Witnesses state that it looks somewhat similar to how a caterpillar moves.
Reindeer herders report that the Irkueim can decimate an entire heard of reindeer in a short amount of time and that it is in ones best interest to flee the area immediately if the mysterious bear shows up. It is extremely territorial, a strict carnivore, and shows no fear of humans. There have been reports though of humans taking a stand against the Irkueim and fighting back. Reports of mysteriously large white bears killed by locals in the region have shown up in 1976, 1980, 1982, and 1987.
So what is the Irkueim? Is it a new species of bear that has not yet been scientifically recognized, or could it perhaps be a known species of bear that has not been seen for a while? And by a while, we mean since the Pleistocene epoch nearly 11,000 years ago. You see, there are some researchers who believe that the Irkueim is actually a surviving species of Short-Face Bear, more specifically Arctodus Simus, the largest carnivorous land mammal that has ever lived on earth.
Arctodus Simus made its home in North America 800,000yrs ago and could be found from Alaska all the way down to Mississippi. This bear (also known as the Bulldog Bear because of its stubby face) could stand to heights of almost 12ft tall, had a 14ft vertical arm reach, and weighed around 1 ton. Researchers believe that it was a strict carnivore as no evidence of vegetation of any kind has been found in the analysis of its bones. This means that this apex predator would have had to consume nearly 40lbs of flesh a day to continue living (something that entire herds of reindeer could easily provide). Its front legs were alos longer than its hind legs and researchers believe it could reach speeds of up to 40mph.
So if this bear lived in North America during its existence, how is it showing up in Russia? Simple, it walked over via the Bering land bridge. During the late Pleistocene epoch, Alaska was connected to Siberia by the Bering land bridge. As the earths water became frozen during the last glacial period, global sea levels rose and fell. As the seas fell, once submerged land masses between continents became exposed and provided passage between once inaccessible lands. Once the glaciers began to melt, the sea levels started to rise again and the land bridge once again became submerged. Everything that had journeyed over the bridge was now calling a new continent home, such as Arctodus Simus.
Some researchers believe that over time, Arctodus Simus evolved to become a more suitable competitor of the native Kamchatka Brown Bear as well as adapting to the more harsh environment of the Kamchatka Peninsula. As the bears started to die out in North America, they started to thrive in Russia (and develop a new white coat). As time progressed, they began to encounter native humans and eventually became known as the Irkueim.
So, could the Irkueim be a surviving member of the largest bear species that has ever lived, a new species of bear that has never been documented before, or just an overly aggressive Kamchatka Brown Bear with a color mutation? Nobody will ever know for sure until a body is available for scientific research and testing, but until that day comes, the reindeer herders in the Kamchatka Peninsula will continue to be on guard while out in the elements so as not to meet a grisly fate brought on by the gigantic claws of the Irkueim.
Fossil molar of a short-faced cave bear (Arctodus simus) from along the Yakima River in central Washington. This was collected between 1910 and 1940 by my great-great grandparents and currently resides in my personal collection. I was lucky to be able to compare this tooth to a complete short-faced cave bear skull at OMSI during the annual Archaeology Roadshow, and get the ID verified by local prehistoric megafauna experts.
what's the coolest prehistoric bear that you know of this is an emergency
Oh shit um off the top of my head the only one I can think of is the giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus) which could get to a respectable 12 feet tall and 2,000 pounds or so back in the Pliestocene…
Survived by its much less impressive living relative, the spectacled bear (maxing out around 400 pounds).
But aww, look at that little snub face.
Granted, 2,000 pounds sounds super impressive but it actually isn’t all that much bigger than the modern polar bear, which gets up to about 1,500 pounds, and average specimens of the giant short-faced bear were probably closer to that size anyhow.
But the cool thing about the giant short-faced bear was that it had relatively long limbs for a bear, meaning that it stood as tall or taller than an average man at the shoulder, and may have been alarmingly speedy. More hyena-like than bear-like in that sense.
Here’s art of a giant short-faced bear just enjoying life.
I dunno a whole lot about prehistoric bears or bears in general though, so if anyone else has a better suggestion now’s the time to give it.
The short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), otherwise known as the bulldog bear, was a large species of bear native to North American until around 12,500 years ago. It inhabited a wide range, with fossils found as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Mississippi. They belonged to the Ursid subfamily of Tremarctinae, leaving the South American spectacled bear as its closest living relative. Unlike it’s close cousins, the short-faced bear was likely a hypercarnivore, eating almost exclusively (if not solely) meat, according to chemical analysis on the bones. It would have required around 35 pounds of flesh a day in order to sustain it’s large size, being one of the largest known land carnivores. It’s feeding strategy, however, has been a subject of debate. Unlike most bears, it has long, relatively thin limbs. This would have given it a considerable amount of speed. It’s been theorized that the bear would have ran down prey in a similar fashion to cheetahs. The problem with this arises in that it’s joints don’t move in such a way that would allow for it to make quick turns, making it impossible to hunt the agile prey in its range, and any such attempts would likely cause injury given its weight. The current prevailing theory is that it instead was a kleptoparasite, using it’s speed and girth to charge smaller predators and scare them away from their kills.