The North American Black Bear: Facts and History


It is also known as the Baribal bear.According to Youth (1999), “Every year or two, a few wandering bears, mostly young males, reach the Washington, D.C., area which lies some 60 miles from the nearest bear enclaves!” if this is not a pleasant sight considering they can only be found in the extreme North then nothing suffices.

This paper gives facts about the North American Black Bear and all other extra information regarding its history and its existence. It also seeks to inform on the values of this particular bear, and how the government has put measures in place to ensure it does not become extinct.

Brief history

In the northern region of America, it is the least in rank with regards to size and most tolerant of human presence and activities so they are commonly seen walking around. They frequent the all parts of the provinces except the busy urban centers.

Ursidae, which is the bear family, consists of exactly eight species distributed over Asia, America, South America, Europe and Australia. The giant panda is part of the family alongside the brown bear (grizzly), the polar bear and lastly the black bear. The black bear is only found in North America unlike the rest, which are found elsewhere in the world. Further, down in South America there is another species known as the spectacled bear and in Asia, there are the Sloth, Sun and the Asiatic black bear. Many years ago about 18,000 years, the only places the bears occupied were the Queen Charlotte Islands and what is known as the U.S presently. This was because the rest of the area in the north was covered in snow. As years went by and the snow melted, the bears started moving back north and settled at the coast of British Columbia. Those that moved back were confirmed by scientists to be bigger in size due to the isolation during the glaciation period (Schwartz & Franzmann, 1982). The British Columbia has a variety of black bears than the rest of Canada; this is also because of the moving back of bears that had been isolated during the ice age (Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, 2001, p.2).

According to the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (2001, p.3), the population of these black bears in British Columbia as of 2001 was 120,000 to 160,000. The figure is a quarter of all the black bears found in the province (Canada).

Physical attributes

Among the North American bears, it is considered the smallest. Adult bears measure approximately 60 inches from the nose to the tail and are 28-32 inches wide (between shoulders). Their tails range at around 4 meters in length. Males are bigger in size than the females, age being a constant. On the average, a male black bear weighs 180-350 pounds during summer and the same weighs 20% heavier or even 30% on the higher side in fall. This is because they tend to store fat for the winter season. After denning, they weigh way less when they come out (Pederson, n.d, p.1). The females to could weigh up to 175 pounds or even less while males can even burst to 650 pounds (Youth, 1999).

Despite the name black bear, they are in different colors like blue gray, cinnamon apart from the black ones. Some females and males have a mark on their chest area in the form of a white star. In Alaska specifically, the Kermode bears have white fur covering which gives them the names “Ghost/spirit” bears (The Animal planet, 2006). All of them possess a muzzle that is light brown in color. Their facial structure is straight and has large ears in comparison to grizzly bears and long noses that are straight and long. Grizzly bears also have claws that are 4 inches in length compared to those of the black bears, which are a mere 1and a half inches lengthwise. They have long tongues, which help in getting the berries and insects to a central place for eating after digging them up from logs of wood and the likes (the insects).

They walk using the whole surface of the lower side of the foot, which is a similarity with humans. They have short legs with five toes each. The claws cannot be retracted and are all curved. The legs are very powerful and help them cover long distances while running up to 30 miles an hour. They also can climb trees very well and are good at swimming (BBC, n.d.). They shuffle their feet when walking. They also considered the most peaceful of all the species of bears.


In the late fall the bears take off from their habitats in search of proteins like acorns (Nelson, et al., 1983). They do this in November when they cannot find much to eat. They go into the state of deep sleep or torpor during winter. When in this state they neither eat nor excrete. Their temperatures fall by about 8-10 degrees and their rate of body metabolism is generally lowered. They stay in the sleep for approximately six months. During this period, the body uses the fat that is stored during fall. It also serves to keep them warm. They never come out during winter but if they do on rare occasions, they do it briefly. They come out of the sleep totally in the months of March or even April when they are late. The bears with cubs take a longer time to come out than the lone bears (Pederson, n.d., p.2). This is a habit dominated by the pregnant bears and the bears in the cold habitats. Studies have shown that the bears only lose less than 23% of their body strength when they go into deep sleep, while if a normal human being were to take the same nap for five months or so, they would lose almost 90% of their strength because of immobility (Wong, 2001). According to the researchers, a deep investigation into the phenomenon might assist in the problems that humans experience in muscular fatigue after travelling.

Feeding habits

Bears are omnivores they feed largely on vegetation though. Almost 80% of their diet is made of roots, succulent leafy parts of grass and nuts or berries. Roughly twenty percent is what they have of amphibians and small mammals, fish and reptiles or other insects and ants. They like to feed on dead rotting carcasses (carrion). They like to feed on foods that can be digested rapidly and that are low in fiber content. Their diets change according to the seasons. In summer and spring their meals are more of vegetation, in the fall it is more of carnivorous consisting of insects, carrion and some berries on the side. In autumn, they feed on berries and fruits mostly and spawning fish. All through the year, once in a while, they feed on some small mammals. They mostly feed at sunrise or dusk since they are most active during the night. Under rare circumstances, they feed during the day as they move (Ministry of Environment, lands and Parks, 2001, p. 4)


They like do not like to occupy regions with vast amounts of land that are wide open. They like places with vegetation and caves especially for the reason of their denning period. They look for places they can dig out and improvise for dens in case they cannot find caves like under large trees or heaps of large stones. They like to graze at meadows and like the bottoms of moist creeks. They wonder within territories that are familiar to them or rather fixed ones.


The black bears reproduce at a lower rate in comparison to the rest of the mammals. They mate between the June and mid July there about. Males have the liberty to fertilize more than one female.Delayed implantation occurs in females and so it takes place in November or even early December in some cases. This coincides with the deep sleep period, so the cubs that are brought forth in January of February during winter are forced to feed on their mothers when they are in torpor. They in most cases give birth to only two cubs though they have potential for four. The cubs when born weigh 300 grams each (Hriestienko, et al., 2004). The cubs stay and are nursed by their mothers for the first summer and the consequent first winter after that , at four years or even five and half years, a female is ready to breed. When they do not get enough sources of food, they could take longer maybe at seven years (McLaughlin, 1998). On the contrary, some males are ready to males at one year and a half. In majority of cases though, the males may not be mature enough until five or six years of age. Black bears are solitary animals the only things that gets in the way of this state are: the birth of young ones and mating season. To this effect, males are never involved in the upbringing of the cubs. The females are tolerant to other females that they are related to unlike the males, which are not tolerant to any. They may be slow in breeding but they reproduce at a faster rate than the brown bears, this aspect helps them in handling pressure from hunting and other sources (Youth, 1999).

Geographical location

They are spread about Alaska and much of Canada. They even spread further south to the mountains to the North of Mexico. In the books of history, they are not known to transcend the southern zones of the dessert but recently they are even found in the central and eastern parts of the U.S.


Their populations have not been termed endangered or anything near that which means they exist in good numbers. The threatened populations are the isolated ones in Mississippi and the states of Louisiana and Texas are victims. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Youth, 1999) declared this. There are populations that are not recognized by the concerned bodies since they have not been documented that have been exposed to poaching(Florida) and deaths by accidents on roads by reckless drivers or even losing their habitats to other massive populations of animals. The black bear population is approximated at 500,000 worldwide.

Life span

They live for about 32 years in their habitats some less and some more depending on the conditions and quality of life they are exposed to. ‘Smokey the bear’, which belonged to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, died at 27(Youth, 1999). When they live in the wild, there is a reduction in the number of years they exist.

Ecological Relationships

A home range is defined as the physical space or radius of a habitat that a particular bear utilizes be it to sleep, mate or eat all through a year. Males especially adults have a wider range because they move more and are more solitary. Their figure stands at 25 square kilometers to around 150 of the same. The females only utilize like five to around 25km2 (MacKenzie, 2003). The ranges consist of places that the bear gets its food and the courses that connect these feeding places. The home ranges are mostly found in places with thick vegetation for the purpose of cover especially for nursing bears. Females with cubs are also at caution when moving and tend to avoid routes that are vast and open. They prefer to take the long but secure courses if they have to.

The home ranges of different black bears may actually coincide with other bears. Females that are related can survive with sharing but males no matter the connection choose to remain solitary. The ranges shift due to change of weather and seasons of different foods in the feeding area. The bears cannot socialize even during meals at streams that is how much they are cannot be in cohesion.

They are an important constituent in of the food chain in their respective habitats. In many of the ecosystems, they serve chiefly as herbivores then subsequently as carnivores. However because they feed on rotting animal flesh they are also classified as scavengers in some capacity. They aid in dispersal of a variety of berry seeds through their droppings.

Uses and values

The Indians included the black bears in their ceremonies that were majorly traditional and in the community myths. They ate the meat either fresh from slaughter or thy dried it for some time before consuming. Bear fat was used as a cosmetic and was sometimes mixed in proportions with other pigments to produce paint. The black bear skin is improvised to make hats, blankets and even robes for various occasions. Until presently, some of these practices are still in progress among some First nation cultures. The Buckingham palace in Britain has hats that are made of fur from American Black bears (Ministry of Environment, lands and Parks, 2001, p. 5).

In British Columbia, they serve as a tourist attraction among other beasts of the field like cougars and the grizzly bears. This is because they are more interactive with humans than the rest. They provide the best opportunities for photography by tourists. In addition to the visit and photography, the park is open to tourists for hiking so they can observe some of the tree climbing marks on trees and even their prints. They could also see the territory marking signs that the bears make after mating or when travelling. Due to increase in interest many hunting license have been issued and the governments have accrued revenues that go back to the conservation of wildlife and other habitat programs dealing in protecting wildlife (Ministry of Environment, lands and Parks, 2001, p. 5; Hriestienko McDonald, 2007, p.8).


In ensuring that the North American black bear is not extinct, the following measures have been put forward. There are efforts to reduce the level of conflict between man and bear (Peine, 2001). Garbage attracts bears so the locals have been advice to try and ensure proper management of this waste to the best of their abilities (McCullough, 1982). The government of British Columbia also kills 1000 bears every year to aid in this goal (Herrero, 1985).

The second precaution that is majorly the responsibility of the governments is putting measures in place to ensure the habitats of the black bears are safe (Brown and Hamr,1999). This safety is from logging and encroachment of humans on the bears’ habitat. Due to civilization, many developments are taking place and if the government does not plan and protect these habitats, there might end up being a sad black bear extinction story (Ellington, 2003).

The government should also be stern in enforcing rules regarding the trading of bear parts (Cowan,1972). They also need to make sure they monitor hunting activities like what has been done in Canada (Animal Alliance of Canada, 1999). Hunting is restricted in the parks and game reserves. The government also dictates the hunting seasons to the locals. Those found on the wrong side are punished after investigation.

The North American black bear is only found in North America and specifically in British Columbia and for that, it is a marvel to many. People travel many miles just to have the experience.


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