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The Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is the smallest and most widespread of the 3 North American bears. Although endemic to North America unlike the other two, the Black Bear is by far the most numerous bear on the planet with an estimated population of 700,000, over half of which are found in Canada. This roughly equates to 10 Black Bears for every 1 Grizzly Bear in North America.

Like its cousin the Grizzly Bear, the Black Bear is a true omnivore, though very much at the vegetarian end of the scale. Fruit, nuts, berries, and roots make up the bulk of its diet, though carrion, insects, honey, fish, and small mammals also feature. It is predominately solitary animal, but highly intelligent and adaptable which has allowed it to cope more successfully with human encroachment than the grizzly. Its woodland range still extends from Canada and Alaska in the North, through much of the 48 contiguous United States, to Northern Mexico in the south. It is a highly skilled opportunist able to thrive even in some urban areas which has lead to it gaining a somewhat unwarranted reputation as a campsite raider and "nuisance bear". Possessed of great curiosity, resourcefulness, and excellent memory, Black Bears have been known to open door latches, unscrew jar lids, and even recognize specific vehicles and uniforms. It is also highly agile, an excellent climber, and capable of running at 25mph.

Adult Black Bears generally weigh 175-500 pounds (80-225 kilos) and live for 18 years in the wild , though some have been known to exceed 30. Females reach maturity between 4 & 5, with males a year later. Mating normally takes place in June and July with implantation being delayed until October or November as with other bears. After a 70 day gestation period females give birth to 1-5 cubs in a winter den, around 225 days after copulation. The cubs are born naked and blind, and weighing only half a pound (225 grams). They are weaned in July or September of their first year, but stay with their mother through a second winter.

Probably the biggest misconception about Black Bears is that they are black. Like grizzlies they exhibit incredible colour variation, ranging from blond to cinnamon to jet black. Stereotypical colouration is dark brown to black with a tan muzzle. On a group off islands off the Central Coast of British Columbia there is a unique population of Black Bears of which one in every ten is white, a fabled Spirit Bear. These bears are not albinos, but rather the product of 2 parents both possessing a regressive white gene, and have long been of special spiritual significance to Native North Americans.

Sadly Black Bears are still legally killed by trophy hunters in North America, but the biggest threat to this beguiling animal is widespread poaching and illegal hunting to meet the insatiable demand for bear gall bladders and paws in the traditional Far East medicine markets.

On a Bear Trails tour Black Bears can be seen in their natural habitat throughout spring, summer, and fall on Vancouver Island and in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba. In September and October you can also see Spirit Bears on a group of islands off the Central Coast of British Columbia.

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