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Bear Update: Breeding season pits need to protect young against need to secure mates

As a new black bear mother and cub sit in a tree, a young male stalks



Finally it rains... the sweet smell of lush grass and clover fill the air. As the 20-kilogram mass of a light brown, 17-month old cub "nests" in a large hemlock the thick branch sways the dog-size body with each wave of warm rain. The bear doesn't bother to seek shelter against the trunk of the tree but basks in the spring shower relief from a record-breaking heat wave.

It would have been a perfect emergence into its second year, if it weren't for the large male bear with a bad scent at the base of the old conifer. The yearling's body is situated so that it can see the male, its pupils fix and dilate... ears jittery... flicking forward then relaxing... detecting every movement of the larger bear's head.

He is silent, but his intent is deadly. If the yearling were alone, the male would not be interested in this insignificant little bear, 15-metres off the ground. The attraction lies in the larger female bear on the opposite side of the tree trunk.

The brown-mother black bear is not sitting comfortably in the tree but rather is poised with forelegs on one branch and hind legs on a branch slightly higher. Her body taut and ready — muscles quivering. Saliva drips and drools from her lower jaw. A warning is vocalized — four coarse huffs ending with a series of jaw-popping chomps.

Unconcerned, the male rests his massive head over his paws. His 150-kg body slumps over a burned out stump. It seems he has not a care in the world. He has one purpose — to secure mates. By killing the yearling, he will force the mother back into breeding. Even though this mother will chase her yearling away next month to prepare for breeding, male bears get impatient and take action early, or whenever opportunity presents itself. Or, quite possibly, this male knows this female's poor parental protection skills. Brownie, this unfortunate mother, has lost all of her 10 cubs produced since 2007, except the one now in the tree. And this male, who is not the father, is one of the possible males that killed this yearling's siblings last year at this time. Brownie started out with three cubs in 2012 and lost two by June 1.

The male rises. Soft chuffs of concern erupt from the yearling. Four huffs thunder from the branches followed by a single swat of the mother's forepaw. Her head sways toward her yearling and she pops jaws three more times.

The male steps toward the tree, turns and rubs his full six-foot torso back to the tree.

Mom charges two metres down and the yearling climbs two metres higher.

The male, in an uncanny human pose, faces the trunk with 12-centimetre wide forepaws and looks into the tree's upper branches.