Black Bear Researcher
Waves of fear travel the leader of the second growth tree emulating from two small bodies wrapped tightly around the vertical stem of the Douglas fir. Tiny claws of two black bear cubs clutch the crown to support 20-pound bodies. The leader of the 60-year old fir sways back and forth almost to the point of snapping. Sudden tremors erupt from the centre of the tree as if the cubs hung on to the outskirts of some small California town receiving the brunt of aftershocks from a major quake. Each time the tremor-like crash finds its way to the cubs they hold on tighter. One cub closes his eyes. Both cubs are silent but shaking.
What they were experiencing was, below them in the lower depths of the mess of longer branches 10-metres above the ground, their mother in the fight of her life with an adult male black bear. After all, this is the mating period and the male is SLIM.
It all started 40-minutes earlier. Whistler Mountain resident female Jeanie and her two, 6-month cubs-of-the-year (COY) were grazing peacefully in foot-deep clover along mid-mountain slopes. Jeanie was in the process of taking the cubs from one tree island where mature tree cover was scarce to the further, main edge where larger trees existed.
Cubs first line of defence is mature trees to escape dangers from male bears, coyotes, dogs, mountain bikes, and people. We located the bear family during a bear tour and slowly approached to sit some 30-metres down slope. Jeanie paid little attention to us as we approached and settled into viewing position. I discussed her life with the group as I have best known it for the last eight years. Her cubs comfortably grazed along her side indicating that she (Jeanie) was comfortable with eight people in close proximity. It was a tremendous viewing opportunity on a glorious clear night.
What happened during the next 40-minutes gave the clients of this bear tour a real eye opener to the precarious life that mother black bears with offspring face during the mating period of June and July). Out of the corner of my eye, some 300-metres to the east of Jeanie, a black shape halted in the clover. I immediately raised my field glasses to identify the large adult male bear to be SLIM. SLIM is a Whistler Mountain resident and currently, the most dominant male in the ski area. There was cause for concern. I watched him closely he wasnt feeding.
Standing still he nosed slowly through the flattened clover leaflets the very place where Jeanie and cubs grazed 1-hour before. Jeanie with cubs continued to feed unaware of this menacing males presence. The bear viewing group was excited to see another bear and so large but, I quickly darkened their thrill as I explained what could happen if Jeanie did not detect the intruding male.