Whistler Black Bear Project
The dog-like snout thrusts into tall grasses. Small brown eyes navigate the jungle of cellulose-laden blades. Four canines and neighbouring incisors bypass indigestible grasses and close in on a landing pad of clover leaflets. The small bear extends her jaws and with a chopping action, shearing the leaflets loose from their stems. She chews vigorously, hesitates, and then plunges into another bushel of clover. The yearling bear hesitates in mid-chew clover strewn from her mouth lies lazily over her teeth and loose lips. Something catches her eye. A larger black shape moving away from her through tall grasses upslope. She feels uncertain; something is wrong. She blinks a few times and cocks her ears, tracking the movement of the larger bear. She begins chewing again but a trace of panic pushes her forward. She rears on her hind legs, drops and lopes after the larger bear.
This particular bear, at this time, is named Kitkat. She is a small, brown phase daughter that has for the last 18 months been nurtured, protected, and educated by the most reliable force in the bear world her mother Katie.
The yearling female ambles to catch up with Katie, whose pace has quickened these past few days. Mother and daughter skirt the edge of a small tree island where a hygric blanket of horsetail attracts them to feed. This is how it has been the last year amongst the habitat-rich ski area where Katie continues maternal boundaries established in 1995.
The bear familys typical seasonal spring grazing area has changed during the last five years. Their traditional spring grazing pattern of low elevation (750-1,000 metres) feeding during May and June can be abruptly disturbed or terminated by relatively quiet, high-speed human activity. For some reason, and without any real warning, people end up almost on top of the bears. This growing danger has the bears contemplating continued use of the ski area.
And other bears come to feed on the ski trails. Every spring male bears move into the ski trails to feed and follow females. The little yearling female remembers the loss of her brother. Last summer a big male fought with her mother frequently for nearly a week until at last he caught them off guard.
Kitkats nose twitches, suddenly a different scent female, but not her mom. She retreats a few steps and turns to her mother who is already to the treed edge. Another female a large brown mother with two brown cubs emerges from a ski trail drainage ditch 60-metres away. Katie always retreats from this mother. Kitkat pauses and stares back at the mother with cubs and remembers her brother.