Black bears are part of our heritage. Manitoba has a healthy black-bear population, and to ensure that it remains that way, we must be Bear Smart. Remember that the bear is a wild animal and we must do our part to minimize the chances of an undesirable bear encounter.
Many people live in bear country, while others venture there to pursue outdoor activities. As a result, contact, between black bears and people, is inevitable. For many, the bear is seen as a cute and cuddly "Hollywood" character that is charismatic and often enamored. What they fail to appreciate is that bears can also be fierce predators capable of killing both wild and domestic animals, and in the rare case, humans.
The coat colour of black bears is commonly black. However, it can range from blond, cinnamon or light brown to dark chocolate including many intermediate colour combinations. Black bears are naturally inquisitive and normally timid, but they can also be bold. A bear's actions are dictated by its personality, what it has learned from its mother, the experiences it has gained on its own and, of course its own instincts.
Much of a bear’s behaviour is governed by its search for food. To satisfy its insatiable appetite, it will cover different parts of its home range at different times of the year, depending on the availability of food. Most young black bears have no established home ranges and are often forced into less preferred habitat by older, more dominant bears. When natural foods are in short supply or when there is high recruitment, bears may be forced to venture beyond their home or maternal ranges. During their travels, they are more likely to come upon garbage and foods left at improperly maintained campsites, residences, garbage cages and landfills.
Non-natural foods, such as human garbage and birdfeed, become attractive to bears because they are high quality foods that require little effort to acquire. A bear that learns to associate human activity with something to eat becomes "food-conditioned," and may select for people’s food or garbage because of its availability and predictability. A bear that is repeatedly exposed to humans at close range without experiencing negative consequences, learns to tolerate people at these distances and becomes "habituated." Bears that are both "habituated" and "food-conditioned" are the most likely to be a problem, and may, on occasion, become aggressive. Bears whose range includes agricultural land will consume crops (especially wheat, oats, and corn in late summer), beehives and occasionally livestock.
Black bears can be encountered in many different situations and are generally tolerant of humans and their activities, preferring to be left alone and undisturbed. Bears should not be dismissed as harmless, as they should not be feared; but they should be respected for the danger they pose. Conflicts develop when people and bears lose their fear and respect for each other. It is our responsibility as guests of bear country to discourage bears from becoming a nuisance or a danger.
Enjoy bear country and remember to play it safe by being bear smart.