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Understanding Whistler’s Ursus Americanus

Local black bear researcher uses years of observation and photography to educate others

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“That’s probably the most effective form of bear education out there, is to be able to have people in front of a bear and talk about what that bear is all about, and then see what that bear does,” he said.

He also runs a school bear education program, bringing his photographs and bear stories to classrooms in the area all year round.

In all of his talks, Allen finds that photography is one of the best ways to get his point across to audiences.

“You can tell them a lot of things. Like, for instance, last night I was doing a talk at the Chateau to a bunch of Australian visitors in Whistler, and I tell them about why male bears will sometimes kill cubs of a mother to try and mate with that mother, and it’s all interesting and everything, and then the next slide, I show them a male actually getting ready to do it,” he said, adding that it really helped hammer the situation home.

The latest talk Allen is giving is part of the Whistler Museum’s summer speaker series, entitled, “Boisterous Boys: a journey into the lives of Whistler’s male black bears,” which is a shift from his usual subject matter. Allen usually focuses on the denning and behaviour of mother bears and their cubs, but this time, he’ll be addressing issues such as breeding, family break-ups and garbage addiction.

Back in July, he gave a talk on mother bear behaviour.

“In the past, I’ve always kind of focused on female bears and bear families, and everyone always responds softly to mothers and cubs, and that’s great, they’re the producers of the population. But what I wanted to do was kind of look at the male side of things,” he said.

Allen points out that there are some older male bears in the area who have never gotten into trouble with conservation authorities — they’re untagged and avoid humans altogether. But all too often, male bears around the age of eight or nine years old are the ones who end up killed.

“There’s obviously more risk in a male bear’s life, and male bears are primarily the bears in Whistler that get into trouble,” he explained.

Male bears leave their mothers at approximately 1½ years of age to fend for themselves, and it isn’t easy to survive when you’re competing for food within such a healthy black bear population.

“Yeah, they’re big cute animals, but they don’t have a cute life,” Allen points out.

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