A look at three females and one very dominant male and their response to the end of berry season
Some 4 kilometres from where she had fed through Whistler Mountain north-slope, sugar-rich berry habitats since late July, the robust, chocolate brown-phase female black bear now settles for grazing blankets of regenerated clover.
Avoiding the knee-high, cellulose-laden grasses resident adult female Jeanie ducks her head into the new growth where overlapping canines and incisors clip and thrust leaflets onto her tongue. Its an unusually warm, early October evening and the seven people with me stare in amazement. "Why doesnt she look up at us?" is the question most frequently asked.
The high toleration of many resident females stems from the urgency with which they require their food. And based on their positive experiences with life in the resorts altered and enhanced environs, Jeanie (and other bears) has learned to tolerate people at closer distances so that she may benefit from the consumption of high quality food sources.
After all, she is pregnant and during the hyperphagia period of intense berry feeding (mid-August to mid-October) the fertilized eggs are riding the waves of delayed implantation anticipating hormonal signals that she has gained the necessary weight in order to resume fetal development during early December.
Her past post-berry activities have led her to the valley after a week or so of mid-mountain grazing. The valley offers scattered berries and the unfortunate opportunity to consume carbohydrate-rich human foods. Hoping that Im wrong and that late October snowfall forces her into a maternal den, but just in case Im not, shes big (175-kg) and dark brown with a large cream coloured V on her chest. Jeanie is one of the most human-habituated bears in Whistler but also very intelligent and forgiving. She is not tame. Give her respect and distance and shell do the same.
Moving in rhythm with the shrinking shadows of the late afternoon a much smaller (than Jeanie ) black mass with a lone brown cub skirts the edge of a north-slope ski trail on Whistler Mountain. Careful not to remain too long in open areas where vulnerability has taught her fatal consequences, resident adult female Katie always moves and feeds with hesitation. Having lost her son in late July to the aggression of a domineering adult male black bear she is always on guard.
She and her daughter too, revert to grazing the new fall growth of grasses and clover. I can almost bet my life on a bear like Katie never venturing into the valley in search of human food. She will take her daughter to the limits of the lower mountain bike park but will not penetrate the human perimeter.