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Michael Allen: Whistler's favourite mother bear is back with cubs

Jeanie spotted with two cubs, one disappears days later



I first observed Jeanie out of the den on May 21 with two black cubs on Whistler Mountain.

The twenty-year-old mom then had at least one aggressive encounter with a coyote and two aggressive encounters with large male bears.

Coyotes have been known to sneak up to small spring cubs to kill them for food although I've never seen them be successful. Male bears pose the more serious threat to spring cubs killing them to force the mothers back into the breeding cycle. The last time I saw Jeanie with two cubs was on May 24. On May 26, Sylvia Dolson of the Get Bear Smart Society saw her with only one cub during the Toonie Bike Race in the lower Bike Park. Both mom and cub were treed and appeared agitated.

It's possible that the second cub only became separated from its family but a suddenly orphaned cub would become increasingly stressed and vocal, bawling from the security of the trees.

On May 27, I observed Jeanie at approximately 6:30 p.m. during a bear viewing tour. She appeared stressed as she ran back and forth along the lower ski slopes in the bike park covering about 600-metres in total.

She was frantically scenting the ground to determine direction, possibly of her separated cub and/or to identify a potential threat to cubs.

Remote bear cameras in the bike park revealed two large males currently moving through ski trails at night.

That night Jeanie was last seen 20 minutes later entering forested edge of ski trail when tree branches could be heard aggressively breaking. No bear vocalization was heard. I investigated but she was gone.

Neither Jeanie nor her cubs were seen again that night. I returned later that night but heard nothing.

On May 28 at 7 a.m. I found Jeanie grazing in the lower bike park with only one cub. She seemed calm while laying on snow-patches and playing with the lone cub. Jeanie and her cub were seen again at 6 p.m. grazing with no sign of the second cub. On May 30, Whistler Golf Course staff reported that Jeanie and one cub were grazing at the golf course. Low elevation snowpack, daytime biking, and competition with another mother bear Elly and her yearling are likely forcing her to feed in valley.

I first identified Jeanie in 1996 on the north side of Whistler Mountain. I'm assuming she was at least four years old then. Her first observed breeding was in 1997 and her first cubs were born in 1998 when the BBC Natural History Unit made its first documentary about Whistler bears.

Since then she has had 14 cubs (four black, 10 brown) in seven litters. I don't know the sex of this year's lost and surviving cub as of yet. If she has lost this cub that will be a total of eight of 14 offspring that have been known not to have survived. Sources of mortality include cubs lost to adult males, vehicle collision, and being destroyed as subadults/young adults due to conflicts with garbage. Jeanie's minimum age is 19 years but it's likely that she is now in her early twenties. She is also missing her lower left canine tooth but seems to graze efficiently. Tooth loss should not impact berry feeding because bears mostly use their floppy lips and long tongue to slurp berries from the stems.

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