Black Bears

The Coastal Black Bear is an Eco-Tourism Highlight for any Visit to British Columbia

The number of black bears are high in wet climatic zones, such as the Great Bear Rainforest, where vegetation is more plentiful and access to spawning salmon in the rivers gives an abudant food source rich in important nutrients for winter hibernation.

Restricted to the coastal mainland of British Columbia from Burke Channel to the Nass River and most adjacent islands this subspecies includes white and black colour phases (Ursus americanus kermodei). The white colour phase is most common on Princess Royal and Gribbel Islands (about 10% of bears) but is seen occasionally throughout the range of kermodei. British Columbia has more races of black bear than any other part of Canada. This is attributable to the arrival of bears that had differentiated in isolation on Haida Gwaii during the last ice age.

The current estimate of the black bear population in British Columbia is 120,000–160,000. This is about one quarter of all black bears in Canada.

The presence of large carnivoires symbolizes wilderness to many people.
One of the most widely distributed mammals, Black bears have low reproductive rates compared to many other mammals. Females usually don’t reach sexual maturity until four years of age and breed only every two to three years after that. In areas of abundant food, they may reach maturity sooner. Where food is scarce females might not bear their first litter until they are six or seven years old. Although some males can breed when they are one and a half years old, in most populations males don’t mature sexually until age five or six.

Black bears in British Columbia usually mate from early June to mid-July. However, in a phenomenon called delayed implantation, the embryo does not implant in the uterus and begin developing until October or November. Cubs are born in January or February, during hibernation. Black bears usually have two cubs, but litter sizes vary from one to five. At birth, cubs are hairless, blind, and weigh about 400 g. They nurse while the mother continues hibernating and weigh 3 to 5 kg when they leave the den in spring.

Black Bear in Intertidal ZoneFor many tourists, the wilderness attributes of British Columbia are its major attraction. Black bears provide the best opportunity for visitors to view and photograph this amazing and powerful animal. For many, this experience is the highlight of a trip to British Columbia and the presence of large carnivores symbolizes that wilderness. In places where visitors can view black bears safely, such as at estuaries in the spring or spawning streams in autumn, there is considerable opportunity for responsible eco-tourism. In addition to seeing black bears, a hike through the forest can provide opportunities to see bear signs, such as claw and bite marks on a tree where a bear marked the trunk with scent during mating season or chewed at the bark to get at the cambium. Bears frequently use “rubbing” trees, either as a scratching post or to mark their home range. Another interesting habit of bears is the way they make and use trails. Often they will step in the same footprints of other bears, thus creating well-worn paths that they use year after year. Footprints, scats, rubbing trees, and ripped-up logs are all signs of black bears.

Source: Province of BC Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks
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