Bear Facts (Black and Grizzly) will we see one on our trip?
ALL ABOUT BEARS
It is not uncommon to encounter a black bear while camping in British Columbia. Black Bears are the most common large mammal in North America and Vancouver Island is possibly the best place to catch a glimpse of one of these wild animals. The old-growth forests here make an ideal climate for the Black Bear population to flourish.
Basic Facts about North American Black Bears
The bears you are likely to encounter on Vancouver Island, its surrounding islands and within the British Columbia mainland are North American Black Bears or, if you want to get scientific, Ursus americanus.
This population of this species is strong throughout North America with well over 500,000 bears roaming our wild. The ecosystem of Vancouver Island and the British Columbia seem to be a particularly attractive habitat for these creatures as bears are abundant in nearly 95% of the province.
Black bear cubs are born tiny and grow to an intimidating size. The average cub weighs 7 to 11 ounces and will quickly grow to at least 130 lbs. If they are males, they may grow to be over 600 lbs. in their lifetime. Females and males both grow to be up to 75 inches tall. Black bears living within a stable a resourceful habitat can live to be 25 or 30 years but average black bear mortality has most bears dying as teenagers or younger; most often as the result of human encounters such as hunting, mistreatment or car accidents.
Habitat and Eating Habits
The places we paddle to throughout the province are all ideal habitats for black bears. Black bears are omnivores and the combination of food they can gather from the water and land here is plenty to sustain their population. Like orcas and humans in the area, black bears enjoy fishing British Columbia’s salmon runs during the summer. On land, they are predator to almost everything except the grizzly bear, to which they can be prey. Black bears can and do hunt fellow large animals such as deer, elk, caribou and moose calves. There are even areas in Saskatchewan and Alaska where black bears hunt nearly 50% of all moose calves. Black bears also don’t mind a vegetarian diet. Proof of this can be seen in a population boom that occurred within the black bear population in the 1970’s after logging companies made extensive clear cuts throughout the province. New growth of berry bushes in this area proved to be a desirable food source for the bears and their population exploded. Before you become excited about the logging companies helping wildlife in the area, you might note that the second-growth forests that have now outgrown the berry bushes have proven to be a less desirable habitat for black bears, lacking aged hollowed out trees that provide ideal dens and also lacking the abundance of berries that flourish in newly clear cut areas.
Bears die much younger than humans and reach sexual maturity much younger than humans too. Females can begin reproducing when they are as young as 2 or 3 years old while males reach maturity at 3 to 4 years of age. Black bears usually mate during the summer months of June and July. Males and females spend an extremely brief period of time together, just long enough to get the job done, before parting ways to go back to their preferred solitary lifestyle. Females carry their cubs for about 220 days before giving birth to them over the winter inside a maternity den. A black bear’s litter can include 1 to 5 cubs and usually the number falls right in the middle. They are born tiny, naked and blind and will remain in the den nursing off their mothers until spring. Their first year will be spent with their mother and after hibernating with her for their second winter, they will go into the wild on their own. The cycle of mating, carrying and nursing young cubs allows mother to give birth as frequently as every two years, although females will sometimes wait 3 or 4 years between pregnancies.
As cubs, bears are extremely dependent on their mother and will starve if their mother does not adequately supply them with food. Black bears also are known to die in freak wilderness accidents such as falling out of a tree. Still, the most common way for an adult black bear to die is as a result of human interaction. Many black bears die as the result of motor vehicle accidents or are illegally killed by people. Not all bear kills are illegal though and there are designated black bear hunting seasons in the spring and fall. Black bear hunting is common throughout North America. In British Columbia, there are some restrictions such as avoiding a female bear with her cubs and the presence of a licensed guide. Black bears can also be hunted by grizzly bears and in some cases, there is cannibalism and infanticide within the species. When this occurs, it usually comes when some form of human development disturbs a bear’s traditional habitat. When cannibalism occurs, it is often a male bear going after a female in the company of her cubs.