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Bear Update:

Yearling Bears I

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Flight response instinctively took over, triggering Kitkat’s mad climb to safety in the highest branches of the oversized Christmas tree. She bawled again, wailing out confusion and fear. She watched the larger black bear retreat to 40 metres and sit.

Her mother, Katie, watched the tree her yearling was in. Katie appeared distressed at the sounds of her 18-month-old cub in distress, yet instinctively she maintained her firm composure to separate from Kitkat. For a moment she contemplated her actions then decided without a doubt it was time to move on and continue the cycle for next year’s litter.

Her ears remained cocked with each wail from her yearling. Katie chuffed a few times softly. Her mood shifted again and she lunged at the tree. This time Kitkat appeared more angry than scared and began popping her jaws and blowing at her mother. Survival instinct was taking over.

Katie turned and walked away. Her daughter picked up the movement and began descending quickly to catch up. But again Katie whirled and rushed the tree. Kitkat flew to the top and clung to the leader. Katie turned and left without looking back. Kitkat watched her mother leave and began another series of low bellows of distress, the last hope for her mom’s return.

With Katie now out of site the small, vulnerable, confused female bear descended one last time and stood at the base of the tree. No mother bear rushed at her. She knew though that this was the end. She sniffed the ground where she and her mother had just grazed and turned to the security of the forest to begin a new life.

I observed this family break-up on the north side of Whistler Mountain during the evening of June 4. Family break-up is usually abrupt. There is not much grey area for mother bears – protect or not to protect.

Mothers typically raise their cubs for 17-19 months after birth in early January to mid-February. The female bear’s responsibility to cub rearing is crucial and strong during the short duration of carrying a litter.

Yearlings range from 35 to 70 pounds when they leave their mother during the second spring. When people see yearlings in the spring it is very important to understand that they are supposed to be on their own, skinny and ragged. They are not abandoned. They resemble the size of a border collie or medium-sized lab dog. Their appearance may be sad but it’s misleading – yearlings are tough and smart. More harm will come to the bears if they are influenced by human foods and behaviour.