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Whistler bears getting fatter every day



Perfect conditions for berries this year, but more activity in valley expected

By Alison Taylor Whistler’s bears are preparing for their long winter sleep by gorging on everything in sight right now, said resident bear researcher Michael Allen.

"There’s some fat bears out there," said Allen, as he sat on the grass at Myrtle Philip Community School where he was giving bear talks to the students on Tuesday.

At least one of those fat bears has been causing a few problems in Whistler in recent weeks. There were reports of a big bear getting into a home on Panorama Ridge. Then the activity stopped. Next there were reports of a big bear causing problems around Beaver Flats in Creekside. After a few days that activity stopped too. Next a big bear was reported hanging around the small horse corral at the Edgewater Lodge near Alpine Meadows. Subsequently one of the horses was spooked, broke a leg and had to be put down.

The district’s Conservation Officer Chris Doyle said they have tried to set traps to no avail.

He doesn’t know if he’s dealing with the same bear or a couple of bears. But he is sure of one thing.

"Everybody always says it’s the biggest bear they’ve ever seen," he said.

The bears are so fat this year because they have been gorging on the plentiful berry crop.

This fall feast is the bear’s natural response to a condition called hyperphagia, or hyper-feeding. It starts in early August when the hormonal signals in their body tell them that the mating season is over and it’s time to chow down.

That means some bears will spend up to 17 hours every day simply eating this year’s bumper berry crop.

An adult male and a pregnant female are the most likely to put on the most weight, some gaining as much as 100 pounds in a few short months.

"(The pregnant females) want to reach as maximum a weight as they can," said Allen.

Because their main focus is on food, the pregnant female will tolerate a passing hiker or nearby construction site much more than a male black bear. For them, feeding is crucial for their babies to survive.

The bears who usually gain the least weight are mothers with cubs because all of their resources are directed towards their babies and keeping them safe.

When Allen spies pregnant bears Jeannie and Alice on Whistler Mountain, he said they just don’t stop eating. Katie on the other hand always has her eyes on her young cub. She eats then stops and assesses the situation every so often. Allen said those pauses, although they are brief, can add up, and as a result the mother has the least amount of weight on her when she settles into her den with her cubs for hibernation.

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