You are on your way to the Sunshine Coast on the scenic ferry route from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale. Perhaps you are considering a permanent move to the Coast but need a little prior exploration before making the decision “to move or not to move”. It is summer and your plans call for a wilderness exploration. In your hiking you may encounter one or more black bears.
The black bear is the smallest and the most populous of the bears found in North America. It is found throughout most of North America and it is the only specie of bear native solely to North America. An interesting feature of black bears is that they are not always black. In the eastern half of the continent they are usually all black. However, in the western half they sometimes have white chest hair and brownish hair mixed in with their black coat. There is a black bear that is “all white”. This all white black bear is found only on Kermode Island which is on the coast of British Columbia. This is the “Spirit Bear” which is revered by many Aboriginals. According to biologists the white colouring is caused by both parents having a rare recessive gene although both parents themselves may both be all black. I t is a somewhat complicated version of the Mendelian Ratio which you probably studied in high school.
Black bears are smaller in areas where food is scarce which not the situation on the Sunshine Coast is. All of British Columbia is truly “Bear Country” as it has the largest black bear population on the Continent. It is estimated that there is between 120,000 and 150,000 black bears in British Columbia. Adult males measure between 60cm. and 90 cm. at shoulder height. Adult bears have few predators to worry about, only grizzly bears and sometimes wolf packs. Black bears can live over 30 years in the wild, but the life expectancy is usually between 15 and twenty years.
The black bears mate in June and unless the cubs die the female becomes pregnant 0nly every two years. She has up to 5 cubs, but usually only 2. The cubs can stay with their mother for up to 2 years. It is when the cubs are young that the female can be aggressive. Leave slowly if you come upon a mother with cubs.
The bears have good vision and hearing and the story that the bears are short sighted is a myth. The bears have an exceptional sense of smell. They can smell food for more than a kilometre away. That is one reason that garbage should never be left out. When bears get used to human food or garbage that is when problems develop between humans and bears.
Black bears are voracious eaters in the late summer. They can consume more than 20,000 calories a day to prepare for their hibernation. They feed on berries, fish , birds and small mammals. They can devour the crop of a whole apple tree at one sitting. What goes in one end comes out the other leaving a large mess to be cleaned. Ripe fruit should be picked as it is a lure to bears. They will keep coming back and no fence will stop them.
Black bears are an important factor in our ecosystem and we must share our Coast with them. Welcome to “Bear Country”.