Interesting Bear Facts & Safety Tips

Bears Are Okanagan Wildlife

Bear facts and bears in the Okanagan BC. Yes, there are a few here and there. You're not likely to run into a grizzly bear, but you may encounter a black bear. So, here are some quick bear facts about brown bears and black bears, and a few tips for staying safe while in Okanagan back country, hiking trails, wilderness, campgrounds or even some residential areas.

black bear cubs and motherBeautiful Black Bear Cubs And Their Mother

Bears are extremely beautiful, yet powerful and very unpredictable animals. They are indigenous animals of British Columbia. Black bears can be found throughout the entire province of BC, including the Okanagan and Shuswap regions. 

Grizzly bears (also known as brown bears), are one of the largest North American land mammals. According to the British Columbia government, they may be found throughout British Columbia, with the exception of Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands, and you are more likely to see one in the northern Interior...

"Grizzlies are considered extirpated from much of south and south central British Columbia (e.g., lower elevations of the Okanagan, the Lower Mainland, and parts of the Cariboo). However, Grizzly Bear are occasionally sighted in the southern interior plateaus and other areas from which their populations are considered effectively extirpated." (bear facts quoted from env.gov.bc.ca)

Six Quick & Interesting Facts About Bears

black bear cub and mother

Here are a few fun bear facts that we 'bearly' knew before we did all this research. ;-)

#1 Bears are large, strong Omnivores; animals that eat both meat and plants. They are strong enough to mangle cars and shred tents in search of something to eat. All bears are dangerous, and habituated bears are especially dangerous.

#2 Bears, by nature, are solitary and quite docile animals. They are very smart, generally shy and are very good at hiding when they need to. Although they can be frightening most bears will only become aggressive when they feel threatened or when their babies are threatened.

#3 Most species of bears live to around 25 years of age. A bears habitat generally ranges from the snowy northern tundra to dense rain forests and high mountains. 

#4 Bears have an acute sense of smell and hearing. They also have very good eyesight. These senses are very important to a bears survival. A bear can smell food, cubs, a mate or danger from miles away! They are also very strong swimmers.

#5 Actually a misconception.... Despite common belief, bears can run downhill very easily. Black bears and young grizzly bears can climb trees. Mature grizzlies are poor climbers, but can reach of up to four meters.

#6 Black bears are not true hibernators. During their winter dormant period, though, they do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate, but may wake up if disturbed.

What Are The Main Differences Between A Grizzly Bear And A Black Bear?

brown grizzly bear

The brown grizzly bear has a rather concave face, high-humped shoulders, and long, curved claws. The grizzly's thick fur, which varies from light brown to nearly black, sometimes looks frosty, lending to the name "grizzly," or the less commonly "silvertip".

A grizzly bear also has more rounded, shorter ears like the one you see here. Although they like to eat fish, the majority of their diet consists of berries, leaves and nuts.

black bear

Black bears, like this one, are usually black, with a lighter-colored muzzle and a straighter profile. Their ears are large relative to the size of the head. Black bear claws are short and highly curved.

Most adult black bears range from 70 kg to 150 kg. Mother black bears are notoriously protective of their cubs, who stay with their mothers for about two years.

When traveling in bear habitat consider whether a bear could perceive your presence soon enough to avoid an encounter. A surprised bear can be aggressive especially if it is feeding or protecting cubs.

In the vast majority of instances, a bear that picks up on the approach of a person melts away into the bush. We can never really know how often we have passed such a bear with out realizing it.

Habituated Bear Facts

a bear looking for food at a campsite

Our actions in the wilderness affects the safety not only of yourself, but of future visitors to this region and the wildlife that makes the Okanagan their home.

Habituated bears are food conditioned, meaning that they lose their natural fear of humans from scavenging garbage or unattended food on picnic tables, in campsites, residential and forest areas. And the saddest of bear facts is indeed that...A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR

Habituated bears have become accustomed to finding food, and an easy meal in human populated areas and become unpredictable and potentially dangerous. There is little or no chance of correcting a food-conditioned bear and BC Park Rangers are forced to destroy them when they become aggressive towards humans. It's vital to the life and safety of a bear, and human beings, for all of us to be extremely diligent about not being responsible for habituating a bear or it's cubs.

Bear Safety Tips

There are many things you can do in your campsite and on hiking and biking trails to reduce your risk of encountering a bear, and putting yourself and wildlife at risk.

  • Keep a clean camp, never bury food or garbage. Bears can and will dig for food. If you're fishing, use a fish cleaning station away from your campsite, and cook and eat food away from your tent. Bears are strongly attracted to fish odor. Never leave cooking utensils, coolers, grease or dishwater lying around a campsite. If you're camping in back country, hang food higher than 4 meters up a tree, where a grizzly bear can't reach it.
  • Avoid walking or hiking at night when wildlife animals are more active. When hiking during the day, go as a group.
  • Keep pets leashed or leave them at home. Pets can make a bear angry and provoke an attack. A bear may also chase a pet back to a campsite.
  • Mind posted park warnings, stay on designated trails and comply with posted bear warning.
  • Stay clear of any dead animals. Bears feed on dead animals. Crows circling in the sky is an indication of carrion (a dead animal carcass) in the area. Remember that bears have a keen sense of smell and may be nearby.

Watch for bear signs including tracks, droppings, recently overturned rocks or logs, rotted wood that has been torn apart, clawed, bitten or rubbed trees, bear trails, bear hair on tree bark, fresh diggings and crushed vegetation. If you observe any of these signs, leave the area immediately.

black bear brown bear image differences

If You Encounter A Bear

Because black bears and grizzlies behave differently, your reaction to a bear encounter will depend on knowing the species. Always stay calm and keep the bear in view. Avoid direct eye contact, as a bear may see this as aggression and could attack.

  • Never try to out run a bear. (you only have to outrun the guy behind you - kidding!) Bears are as fast as racehorses. The bear will win.
  • If the bear is standing up on its hind legs, it may be trying to pick up your scent to identify you. Talk softly to the bear as you continue to back away, always keeping the animal in view.
  • If the bear acts aggressively, try to determine it's intent. A bear may act defensively if it is startled, or if it is protecting cubs, territory or food. Aggressive behavior includes jaw snapping, head lowering, ear flattening, woofing sounds and growling. Wave your arms, talk in low tones and back away slowly.
  • Signs of predatory behavior include following you, showing interest and unprovoked attacks. Remember that black bears and small grizzlies can climb trees, so stay on the ground. Try to look as large as possible. We've been told to never play dead - it makes you easier prey.

Dangerous sightings of bears can be reported to the Conservation Officer Service call center at 1-877-952-RAPP(7277), or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.

Whew! Enough said! Though bear facts and safety are important to know, don't let this stop you from exploring the beautiful Okanagan!

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