Perhaps no other animal native to North America raises more interest and confusion than bears. Especially black bears, since they are so much more widely spread and located than are the grizzly bears of the Northwest and Alaska.
Because of increasing numbers of human/bear conflicts taking place in states across the country in which bears live, the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary made the decision in 2007 to take in both black bears and grizzly bears that needed homes.
At the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, we have both black bears and grizzly bears. I work with the black bear cubs, which were received by us when their mother was killed by a Game and Fish Department when found in a residential area in the Northwest.
We received these cubs when they were about 8 months old, and they were at first very fearful of humans, having seen their mother shot and then kept in a strange and noisy place for a month.
After working with them for long periods of time, I have now begun to earn their trust and confidence. They now are beginning to look upon me as a comfortable companion that shares their dinner table and is quite helpful in opening their peanuts for them, holding their carrots while they eat them, and holding their apples to make eating them much easier.
They are beginning to accept and enjoy affection, rubbing, and gentle stroking. They also play with my clothing in a very gentle but curious way, wanting to check each item out and see its texture and taste.
I do everything possible to be a calm influence, never reprimanding them beyond a gentle no when they get a bit exuberant, and lying in close proximity so that they realize I trust them. My trust in them creates trust in me on their part.
Not being predators, I can be much more relaxed with bears than I can with the big cats. I have to keep the big cats in an emotional state, as their instinctual state is very unstable and dangerous. However, with the bears I can relax and just be sure I don't do anything that might anger them. They can be incredibly gentle and caring. When I feed them half an apple, for instance, they will make several attempts at eating it before biting down, making sure my fingers do not get in their mouth and injure me. When I shell peanuts for them, they patiently wait until I have the peanut safely out of the shell before flicking their long tongue and picking up the nut.
Here are some of the characteristics of black bears:
They are approximately 4 to 7 feet from nose to tail, and two to three feet high at the withers. They have small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, a short tail, and shaggy hair. They differ from a grizzly in being smaller with a smaller shoulder hump, a furred rear instep, smaller claws that art more tightly curved, and longer, smoother, and more tapered ears.
There are 16 subspecies based on minor differences in appearance and DNA.
The population of black bears in North America is estimated at 750,000. They live in forests as far south as Florida and northern Mexico and as far north as forests grow in Alaska and Canada.
Body fur is usually black or brown but occasionally blonde, or rarely white as in the Kermode subspecies of coastal British Columbia. Brown muzzle. Eyes brown (blue at birth). Skin light gray.
Usually from late May to early July. The implantation is delayed until November.
January or early February
The number of cubs in a litter is usually 2 in the western United States and 3 in the Eastern United States.
Cubs usually stay with their mother for 17 months (rarely 29 months). One to six days before the mothers are ready to mate in late May or June they force their yearlings to stop traveling with them.
Typically, the mother is 3 to 7 years old at the production of first cubs, depending upon food supply.
Bears see in color and have good vision close up.
Exceeds human frequency ranges and probably twice the sensitivity
Their smelling ability is extremely good. The limits are untested, but their nasal mucosa area is about 100 times larger than in humans.
Large brain compared to body size. One of the more intelligent animals. Navigation ability superior to humans. Excellent long-term memory. Can generalize to the simple concept level.
Usually silent. A variety of grunts in amiable situations. Loud blowing noises when frightened. Clack teeth when frightened. They use a resonant, humanlike �voice� to express a range of emotions from pleasure to fear.
Good. Can swim at least a mile and a half in fresh water.
Lean bears can exceed 30 mph.
Black bears can live 21-33 years or more if they are not killed.
The greatest misconception about black bears is that they are likely to attack people in defense of cubs. They are highly unlikely to do this. Black bear researchers often capture screaming cubs in the presence of bluff-charging mothers with no attacks. Defense of cubs is a grizzly bear trait. Black bears have not been known to kill anyone in defense of cubs.