Wildlife Spotlight: Black Bears

Description

  • Common Name: American Black Bear
  • Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Group name: Sleuth, sloth
  • Size: 5-6 feet long
  • Average lifespan in the wild: 20 years
  • Weight: 200-600 pounds

The Black bear is a curious and intelligent animal that has received a reputation for being a dangerous predator in the wild. Although black bears are effective predators that are capable of doing much harm, a majority of the time they have no intentions of attacking humans. Black bears are omnivores that eat a variety of things such as nuts, berries, fruit, plants, roots, fish, and small mammals. A malnourished black bear is dangerous because they are willing to attack humans as prey. Black Bears have retractable claws that allow for them to be exceptional tree climbers and are also skilled swimmers known to swim in lakes and rivers to catch their prey. They also have a keen sense of smell which allows them to seek out food in trash cans and nearby settlements and also have the capability to break into cars for food.

Black bears are one of three bear species in North America; the other two being the Brown Bear (Grizzly) and the Polar Bear. They are also the smallest of the three species and the most abundant on the continent. They are found in Canada, Northern Mexico, Alaska and the lower forty-eight American States. Despite their name, not all black bears are black. Black bear fur can range in color and is normally determined by region. For example, western black bears are typically brown while black bears found in coastal British Columbia have a coat that is greyish white in color. These Canadian white bears are known as Kermode or Glacier Bears but are still considered black bears.

Do not leave food at campsites, the scent from leftover food can attract bears and other unwanted animals. If a bear is regularly exposed to leftover human food then it will become more reliant on leftover food and trash and less reliant on their hunting skills. This can result in an increase of black bears approaching campsites for food and can lead to a confrontation. This can be dangerous for the person being confronted and bad for the bear. If the bear becomes hostile then law enforcement will have to track down the bear and put it down.

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If you come across a bear follow these steps:

  • Do not run away but slowly back away while facing the bear.
  • Do not throw rocks at the bear or distract it with food, this can lead to further problems.
  • If the bear stops what it was previously doing such as eating and begins to swipe at you, that is a sign that you are too close and need to back away.
  • If the bear begins to approach you and does not stop, do not run away but change your direction while facing the bear.
  • If the bear does not stop following you then stand your ground. Make yourself appear as large as possible and make loud noises. Show that you will not back down.
  • If you are attacked by the bear then fight back with everything you can and try to get the animal off of you. A bear will only attack you if provoked or is desperate for food.

Black bears have a beneficial role in their ecosystem by dispersing seeds through their feces. The seeds of fruits and berries are typically intact and use the feces as a natural fertilizer. Black bears also play a part in the decomposition of fallen logs on the forest floor. Black bears will break apart fallen logs searching for grubs, the broken down logs are then able to decompose in a shorter amount of time. Unfortunately, the threats facing black bears are greater than the benefits they offer to the ecosystem.

Habitat destruction and the construction of new homes force bears to relocate or adapt to new conditions. The construction of new homes in bear country allows for greater interaction between bears and people and put bears at a higher risk of being hunted by wildlife authorities. The added effects of climate change are also forcing bears to adapt to the distribution of their food sources and will forage for food in unnatural places such as trash bins, cars and homes which leads to greater conflict with people. If you want to help black bears you can symbolically adopt a bear or donate to organizations dedicated to the protection of bears.

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This is my dog Sadie, I call her my little Black bear! 😀

Thank you for reading this article and be aware of your surroundings when hiking!

-Matthew

Sources:

Black Bear Biology & Behavior

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6960.html

http://www.bearlife.org/black-bear.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/american-black-bear/

http://www.discoverwildlife.com/animals/mammals/10-amazing-black-bear-facts

North America’s Bears

https://defenders.org/black-bear/basic-facts

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