A frequently asked question: why are grizzlies so much more aggressive than black bears? The answer takes us back over thousands of years to how the two species evolved.
Black bears evolved where there was always abundant cover and the possibility to escape from danger by climbing trees. They also have short curved claws which are ideal for climbing. In fact, black bears will most always run away rather than stand and fight. A female may prefer to tree her cubs and remain at the base of the tree to defend against an attacker rather than attack aggressively (although such behaviour has been documented).
Grizzly Bears, on the other hand, evolved in vast, largely treeless environments where escape to cover was not always an option. This evolution contributes to their aggressively defensive reaction to danger. Statistically, grizzlies are far more likely to attack when threatened than black bears which explains their long standing reputation as fierce and volatile. One would never want to surprise a grizzly, encounter one with cubs at close range or one that is defending a food source. A grizzly is more likely to charge when it feels threatened. These charges however are often ?bluff? charges and the bear will frequently break off if it realizes that you are not a threat. Physical contact is rare but does happen.
Our timid black bears are not to be underestimated either but for different reasons. Predatory attacks by male black bears are becoming more frequent in recent years particularly in Northern BC and Alberta while predacious attacks by grizzlies are exceedingly rare. It is still unclear why there has been a rise in these types of encounters although a healthy bear population and encroachment on habitat seems to explain a great deal.
Although bear attacks are rare, it is important to understand the differences between the two species so you can mentally prepare yourself in case of an encounter. Our boundless and beautiful wilderness should be enjoyed without fear but always with knowledge, understanding and respect of it?s first inhabitants.
?Till next week, bear with me.
Grizzly Bear ? Ursus arctos horribilis
The Grizzly Bear is the second largest member of the bear family (Ursidae), next only to the polar bear.
Two recognized North American subspecies are U.a.horribilis, the common subspecies, and U.a.middendorffi, the Kodiak bear, found on a few Alaskan coastal islands. The grizzly?s range once included parts of Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. In many of these areas, it has been exterminated or had its numbers greatly reduced. Most of the world?s Grizzly Bears now occur in western North America and the U.S.S.R.
In North America Grizzly Bears once ranged over most of the west, from Alaska south to Mexico, and from the Pacific coast east to Manitoba, southern Ontario, and the Missouri River. In the wake of westward development and settlement, especially in the plains, the range of the grizzly shrank to its present distribution of Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and British Columbia, with small populations in Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
In B.C., Grizzly Bears inhabit most of the province except Vancouver Island, the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Lower Mainland, and portions of the south-central interior. Because of their secretive nature, affinity for wilderness areas and low population densities, accurate counts of Grizzly Bear populations are almost impossible. Estimates put the B.C. population at about 10,000 bears, about one-quarter of the North American population.
Information courtesy of the British ColumbiaMinistry of the Environment.