Little Black Bear Break-In, Plus Bear Facts

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They have five toes, each with a well-developed claw.  The adults weigh between 100-350 pounds, and they are, well, as cute as teddy bears. Hello California black bears! Some say they are dangerous but aren’t all wild animals? In some areas, especially near, or in, the national parks and forests, they have been known to break into restaurants and houses, causing many upsets. I know it is inconvenient, to say the least, but, I must ask, isn’t this their forest and park?  Do humans not leave food and trash out to tempt them? Have we humans not greatly harassed their habitats?

IMG_3322The little guy is in the pine tree right outside our cabin.

I live with my family in a remote cabin in Sequoia National Forest, where bears, bobcats, rattlesnakes, and even mountain lions are our neighbors. Last summer, when the little bear in the photo above broke into our cabin, we were not offended, in fact, we were amazed that he was able to squeeze through our large dog door.  Afterward, we took measures to secure the trash bags that had drawn him in.

California black bears vary in color from tan or brown, to black.  Typically, they are dark brown, and occasionally have a small white chest patch, just like Little Bear. Years ago, K and I saw a gigantic bear out on a hillside that was red - a rare and magnificent sighting!

IMG_3217Bueller, the labrador, protecting the cabin from Little Bear, who was still in the tree.

Before Little Bear came visiting inside the cabin, we awoke one morning last June to a quiet, gorgeous, Sierra morning. I walked outside with K to greet the day when I saw a flash of black on the side of the cabin. Bueller went nuts. It was Little Bear!  He scampered across the “yard” to an 80-foot pine tree and loped right up.  We were able to take a good look at him before we called the dogs back and waited patiently for him to feel comfortable enough to climb down and run off.  It was exciting, but we also knew that we would interrupt both the bear’s, and our, natural systems of living if we didn’t take steps to be sure that bears were not drawn too close to our home.

A few nights later, we came driving up to the cabin and surprised Little Bear, who had decided to go through the dog door and investigate the cabin kitchen.  I opened the front door and was confused. There was liquid on the floor, right inside the door, and it had a bunch of dried pasta in it. It dawned on me what was happening when I smelled the husky, earthy scent of wild animal.

BEAR!” I yelled to my husband, who popped Captain immediately back into the truck and shut the doors.  It was dark and eerily quiet in the house.  We carefully looked around and found the house clear. The screen door in the living room was open and there were paw prints so we knew that we had surprised Little Bear when we drove up, and he broke out and was gone.

Now that things were safe, we brought in the very excited Captain, who ran around looking at everything with moon eyes. K and I got the kitchen cleaned up; Little Bear hadn’t been in our house long, thank goodness.  He had pawed around the kitchen a bit, but everything else looked okay.  We make our own power at the cabin and at night have little gas lamps to see by. It was pretty dark, and it was late, so we all climbed into a bed out on the deck, under the stars, and went to sleep….

IMG_3223Little Bear’s perfect paw print on my pillowcase!  I might even stretch and frame it…

The next morning, my brother-in-law, Ryder, and I did some more looking around in the cabin and were surprised by what we found.  We were able to trace Little Bear’s exact steps through the house.  He had entered through the dog door and barely started pawing through the kitchen (there were some broken jars of molasses, a bag of pasta, etc.) when we must have driven up and surprised him. He probably panicked to get out and ran straight into my bedroom, which is right off the kitchen. He scrambled over the top of my bed (and my pillow!) down and over a giant stuffed teddy bear of Captain’s (!) and up on top of the piano, which is up against a wall with a window above it.  There were sticky paw prints on the piano and nose prints all over the window behind it.  He couldn’t get out there, so he scrambled back through my room, past the kitchen, into the living room where he made it to the screened window and jumped out, probably as I was opening the front door.  Wow!

Now this was an exciting event, but we do not want it to happen again, for both the safety of our family and home, but also for Little Bear. We don’t want his natural ways to be interrupted by getting used to humans and their habitats. California Black Bears eat both plant and animal matter, and tend to eat whatever is around that seems edible to them. This includes human food and trash. They eat a lot of ants and other insects in summer, and in the fall prefer nuts, especially acorns, and eat tons of manzanita berries. They are mostly plant eaters, but will take down young deer fawns, or other animals, if they are hungry. Our Little Bear broke into our house because we live in his home of Sequoia National Forest, AND because we had some bags of trash penned up outside. We take full responsibility for this event and have taken steps to greatly reduce the chances of it happening again.  Basically, we took care of the trash pile!

California Black Bear Facts:

According to the California Department of Fish and WildlifeCalifornia black bear population has increased over the past 25 years.  In 1982, the statewide bear population was estimated to be between 10,000-15,000.  A current, conservative, estimate is 25,000-30,000!  Hoo-yeah! That is such great news!! 40 percent of the statewide black bear population inhabits the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


Black bear

Image: solviturambulando via Flickr

 

Bears mate in June and July.  Reproductive success is directly related to the abundance of high quality summer and fall foods.  You see, if bears eat a lot of human food and trash, it doesn’t really count as “high quality” foods, and effects their reproductive success.  We must keep our trash and human food out of their faces.

Wild female black bears have a very remarkable trait called “delayed implantation“, whereas an adult female will carry a fertilized egg in her womb for many months.  This allows the mama to time the birth of her cubs so that they are not born too early or too late.  If food is scarce, she will not have enough body fat and the egg won’t attach.  The females reproduce at about 4 1/2 years old and generally breed every other year, and produce 2-4 cubs per litter.  The young are born around the 1st of February while Mama is “hibernating”.  The little cubs weigh less than 1 pound at birth, nurse in the den (ahhh!), and emerge in April or May at about 5-7 pounds.  They will stay with Mama for up to two years, following, and learning all about being a bear from her.  Go Mama Bear!

Bears “hibernate” for 3-4 months, but it isn’t really a true hibernation!  It is called that, for convenience sake, but it is, in truth, something called “seasonal lethargy”. Bears keep their body temperatures at 88 degrees and live off of their own fat. By contrast, the body temperature of smaller hibernators such as marmots, chipmunks, and ground squirrels may drop below 40°F. These smaller creatures are known as the “true hibernators”. Bears can go on sleeping because of their ability to retain body heat. They can wake if disturbed, although they require a few minutes to awaken.

One last fascinating fact:  Bears have the ability to regenerate and repair bones by a mysterious mechanism during hibernation. Cool! Scientists are investigating this automatic regeneration to try to find out how it works.

You can click here for a free, printable “Keep Me Wild” bear poster, courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Seeing first-hand the beauty of the California black bear is truly a remarkable experience. I hope that my family and I can be of help to these majestic creatures.  Thank you so much for reading, and please let me know your thoughts, ideas or black bear stories.

Good thoughts!

~Karen

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