Friday, June 3, 2011

Mating Grizzly Bears

I have been watching the grizzly bear sow named "Lenore" for 5 years now. The year I met her she had a new cub we soon dubbed "Burnt Peanut." (they illustrate the front cover of my book Seasons of the Grizzly) This was a cute little bundle of bristly dark fur, whining and complaining about her lot in life continuously. Lenore was a patient, to a point, mother who was also a very strong disciplinarian. Many times we watched her smack her cub to bring it into grizzly bear line. Many of us think that this was the cause of the cubs demise in July 2007. We all felt the sorrow of losing our first cub and could sense Lenore's sadness. The following spring she was bred by one of the males in the cove and in the spring 2009, she presented us with a new cub we soon named BPll. (Burnt Peanut the second.) This cub was much more independent and willingly searched for his own food, mimicking mother's actions. He learned all of Lenore's methods of finding food; eating sedge, rolling rocks to get the at gunnels, shore crabs and sea creepy crawlies, where the best berries were found, chewing mussels off the rocks and pilings, digging roots and fishing for slippery salmon. Lenore was a good mom and BP was a good student. Peanut grew big and strong under her capable tutelage. He learned about bear behavior, denning, hibernation, eating, rub tree etiquette, fishing, bear hierarchy, big male threat and dominance, other animals such as wolves and cougar, good berries, muddy oily wallows, swimming, birds, humans, vehicles, boats, kayaks and what else we don't know. This past week we watched as Peanut was set free on his own by Lenore and the new man in her life, a bear we named "Pretty Boy." This has been a few days of high tension and stress for all the bears around the cove, especially BP. Peanut has already settled down to eating after just a few days of his new solitary existence. He will be a solitary bear for most of the rest of his life, only during mating season if he is lucky, will he hang around other bears. He now has to utilize the tools his mother gave him to survive.

Lenore has now begun a new cycle of bear life. We estimate her to be about 10 years old and has so far raised one bear cub to the best of her ability and influence. Her time to breed has come and she took up with a very handsome male bear. She went with the smooth good looks rather than the more powerful and rugged type like Bruno. Perhaps in a later session, Bruno or another male will get the opportunity to mate with Lenore. Grizzly Bear mating is certainly not for the faint of heart. This is a very rough game of coy flirtation, making eyes, soft moaning discussion and powerful arguments. Sheer determination, bluff calling, loud roaring, threats of violence, defense and a will to endure the vagaries of the hormone overloaded female in estrus finally get PB his reward. PB finally called Lenore's bluff and wandered off down the low tide estuary and swam the river to cool off. It only took a few minutes and Lenore was in hot pursuit, chasing after his disappearing backside. He waited on the other side of the river for her to catch up, then with a few tender words was able to breed. The actual breeding took about 4 or 5 minutes followed by an intense argument and more threats of physical violence. The estuary inhabitants all heard their discussions and watched as they crossed the river to the bush line where they mated once more. All day long the bears were observed together or apart, depending upon their moods.

Peanut was one of the most confused as he watched and heard his mother's antics. She was not acting like his mom normally did. Peanut wandered close and was chased away, he watched from a safer distance, from a log, from the forest or from the mud flat. He finally gave up trying to figure all these new antics out and went down to fill his ever empty belly with a great meal of salad, gunnels and mussels, topped off with a nice nap.

It is difficult not to anthropomorphize the wildlife we observe. We can easily compare their lifestyles to our own. It is not a great stretch to see BP as one of our own teenagers as they leave home to begin a new career, out of the protective gaze of their mother. We all have known people with a volatile relationship with the other sex and the passions that go with it. We have all know the confusion of children who are pushed to the side when their parents take up with a new mate, and are not the center of attention any longer.

We silently cheer for Burnt Peanut ll when we see him on the beach, doing what all bears are supposed to do; eat.

We wish Lenore all the success that she deserves as she tries to raise a new bear family. Hers is not an easy job.

There I go, once again comparing a bear mom to any mom.

Please help to stop the bear hunt in B.C.

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