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Grizzly Bear

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The Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos) is known as the second largest land carnivore in the world, but in practice is an omnivore in the truest sense of the word. While in spring they will prey on newborn moose, deer, elk, and caribou, and in the fall they often feast on spawning salmon, plant matter still accounts for 90% of their diet.

Food is all important to a grizzly and every year is a remorseless struggle to accumulate sufficient fat reserves to see them through the winter hibernation. The implications of failing to do so are far reaching, and a sow grizzly will only bear young if she is in sufficiently good physical condition to nurture cubs through a winter. Typical lifespan for a grizzly in the wild is 25 years, and sows tend to have their first litter between 5 and 7, and their last at 20, typically giving birth to 2 or 3 cubs. A fully grown male weighs between 550 and 800 pounds (250 and 350 kilograms), and females about half that, though in recent years there have been reports of males as large as 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms) in Alaska.

Grizzly or brown bears range from the north western corner of the North American continent, through Siberia and northern Russia, to Finland, Sweden and Norway. Recent population estimates included 70,000 in North America and over 100,000 in Russia. There are also small enclaves in Romania and northern Japan. The US population is split between Alaska (44,000) and Montana, (1,000). In Canada where the population is estimated to be 25,000 there have been increased reports of grizzlies venturing out onto the Arctic sea ice to hunt seals, and competing with their Polar Bear cousins. There is a distinct possibility that grizzlies have always done so and the Polar Bear certainly evolved from an isolated population of grizzlies in Siberia, but many people including some Inuit elders believe that increased grizzly bear activity in the Artic is linked to global warming.

In the Canadian Pacific Northwest grizzly bears spend much of their time deep in the forest foraging for roots and berries which are critical for building fat reserves. In spring and summer they often venture beyond the tree line to feed on sedge grasses in the river lowlands, and forage for crustaceans and shellfish on the shoreline of coastal estuaries and inlets. In late summer and fall they take advantage of the food bonanza that is the annual pacific salmon run. Late August through to October is perhaps the best time to observe grizzly bears as they gorge themselves on salmon in shallow spawning rivers and channels. In times of plenty such as this, grizzlies can be very fussy eaters, taking only the salmon that are in the early stages of the dramatic physical changes that prelude spawning, and then often only eating the brain, skin and underlying layer of subcutaneous fat (the parts with the highest fat content).

After the days of plenty during the salmon run, fall and early winter is a headlong rush to pile on the calories before entering winter dens to hibernate. The sows tend to den first in mid November, with the males following up to a month later. Contrary to a common misconception, grizzlies are not true hibernators and remain semi-active in their dens all winter. They are however able to lower their body temperature, slow their metabolism, and live off their fat reserves for many months.

Let Bear Trails take you on an adventure of a lifetime to observe this magnificent animal in its natural habitat. In Spring (May & June) we can offer boat based viewing in various remote costal inlets and estuaries in Lower Mainland BC and in Northern BC. In summer (July to mid August) the estuary boat tours continue in Lower Mainland BC, and in Northern BC where the salmon run starts early, guided viewing on foot is offered. During the autumn salmon season (mid August to mid October) we can offer guided bear viewing on foot and in river driftboats in Central Mainland BC, and from secure viewing platforms or hides in Lower Mainland BC . Late autumn viewing is also offered from mid October to mid November in Northern BC. We are also able to offer a week long pack horse trip in July to observe grizzlies from horseback in the Chilcotin Mountains north of Vancouver (experienced riders only).

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