All about Bears!

Carnivores

 

Wildlife Safari has 4 brown bears; Mak, Oso, Russell, and Claire. While all these bears are apart of the brown bear species, they are actually distinct subspecies; Mak and Oso are grizzly bears, where as Russell and Claire are Alaskan coastal brown bears. In total, there are 8 sub-species of brown bear and they are the most widely distributed of all bears species. They can be found in tundra, forests, mountain ranges, or coastlines depending on the subspecies. They range throughout North America and Northern Eurasia, including Russia, central Asia, China, Canada, the United States, and Scandinavia. Historically the grizzly’s bear range covered much of North America from the mid-plains westward to California and from central Mexico north throughout Alaska and Canada. However, currently, only 1% of grizzly bears original range in the contiguous United States remains. In fact, 95% of the brown bear population in the United States can be found in Alaska.

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Russell and Claire during Party at Bear Island

 We also have 3 American black bears at the park, Takoda, Chochmo, and Donna. Unlike brown bears, black bears are only found in North America, and they are the continent’s smallest and most widely-distributed bear species. Currently, American black bears can be found throughout forested mountainous areas from the Appalachian Mountains in the east; to the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Cascades to the west; south to Mexico; and all the way north throughout Canada and Alaska; and many places in between. Despite being named “brown bears” and “black bears,” color is never an indicator of either species. Both species can range from almost white, to blonde, to pure black, and many color phases in between depending on age, sex, and even the season. Even our black bears don’t look alike; Takoda is referred to as a Cinnamon black bear because he has a reddish-brown coat of fur, reminiscent of the spice–hence the name. Generally, black bears can be distinguished from brown bears by their smaller size, their less concave skull profiles, shorter claws, and the lack of a shoulder hump.

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Chochmo: one of our North America black bears takes a swim!

Brown and black bears are omnivorous animals and will eat almost anything. In fact, brown bears are one of the most omnivorous animals in the world and have been recorded consuming the greatest variety of foods of any bear. However, both bears’ diets are extremely variable throughout the year and depend on the season, area, and on opportunity. The vast majority of their diet– as much as 80%!–consists of vegetation, such as roots, grasses, and fruits. At Wildlife Safari, apples are a favorite among our brown bears. Despite their large sizes, both bears will eat insects and grubs when they can get them. For example, brown bears in Yellowstone eat an enormous number of army cutworm moths during the summer, sometimes consuming as many as 40,000 moths in a single day! And they can get up to half of their annual caloric intake from these insects. When available, brown and black bears will also feast on spawning trout and salmon. Most bears don’t actively hunt, but will scavenge off dead animals or prey killed by other predators.

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Oso enjoying a section of ribcage

It is a common misconception that bears hibernate during winter. While bears do slow down their metabolism during the winter, they are not true hibernators. Black and brown bears go into a deep sleep during the winter months, known as torpor. During true hibernation, the animals will not wake up when they hear a loud noise or even if they are moved or touched. While in torpor, the animal can wake up quickly and easily. During true hibernation, the animal has a low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate. During the bear’s torpor, their breathing rate, heart rate, and metabolic rate are low, but their body temperature remains relatively high. Animals undergo torpor, or hibernation, as a way to to conserve energy, survive when food is scarce, and minimize their need to face the elements in the cold winter months. To prepare for hibernation, bears need to eat a lot during the fall to store up body fat. During the months before torpor, bears undergo hyperphagia and can eat up to 90 pounds of food every day, and put on up to 3 pounds of weight each day. Bears can weight twice as much before hibernation as it will in the spring. And but the time torpor is over, bears can lose 15-20% of their body weight.

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Claire during the hibernating bear encounter (offered during winter months)

Mak, Oso, Claire, Russell, Takoda, Chcochmo, and Donna are intelligent, curious, charismatic, lovable animals–not just animals that deserve caution when hiking.

 

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Polar Bear-Grizzly Bear Hybrids

Carnivores

The cross breeding of species to create hybrids has been done throughout human history. In recent years, however, hybrids have been popping up in the wild with no direct human influence. A hybrid is two individuals of different species brought together while under human care to create an offspring that is a mix of both parents. Some of the commonly known hybrids are the mule, a cross between a horse and donkey, and the liger, a cross between a lion and tiger. These are species who are either domestic animals or whose home ranges are far apart and would never interact without human intervention. 

In recent years, wild hybrids have been found. These hybrids were not created in human captivity and have attracted both the public and scientific interest. One of these wild born hybrids caught the public interest in 2006 when a hunter shot what he assumed was a polar bear in Banks Harbor, Canada. This bear had the creamy fur coloring found on polar bears. A closer inspection of the bear revealed the bear had features of a grizzly bear, including the hump on the back, long claws, and a grizzly bear head shape. 

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Polar-grizzly hybrid

 

DNA samples were sent in to investigate. The bear was found to be a first generation hybrid, with a polar bear mother and a grizzly bear father. Before this case, it was known that these two species could hybridize as they had done so in captivity. This bear became the first documented case of a polar bear-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild. Since the discovery of this bear, 8 other bears have been found to be hybrids. Of these 8 bears, 4 are first generation hybrids and 4 are the offspring of a hybrid and a grizzly bear. 

What does this mean for the two species? 

The hybridization of these two species could mean one of two things for these species. First, is that this is a random occurrences.The second is that this is the foretelling of a breakdown of species barriers and mating between these species will become commonplace. 

Both are possible outcomes and only time will tell which will be the true outcome. Both of these results have occurred in the wild. With the first, the hybrids are not as successful at surviving in their range as their parent species. The hybrids still pop up in the wild but due to the hybridization lack something that is essential to their survival in the wild.

For breakdown of species barriers the offspring are for one reason or another more successful at surviving in their home range than either of their parents. For this to occur the offspring must be able to produce offspring of their own. It is unusually for hybrids to be able to reproduce but there are cases where they do so successfully. Since second generation hybrids have been found in the wild, we know that the polar bear-grizzly bear hybrids are able to reproduce. This could result in genetic material entering the population that has a negative impact on the population.

These two species also only split on the evolutionary tree a mere 150,000 years ago. So their genetic material is very similar and the males will be attracted to females of both species. The hybridization between these two bears has the potential to lead to the creation of a new species of bears. So even as the parent species dies of there is the creation of  a new species. Either way there is much we can learn from the hybrid offspring of these bears.

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Birthday Parties and Easter Fun

Ambassador Days, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Community

This week was a fun and eventful weekend for the carnivores here at the park. On Friday, our two tiger girls, Riya and Kemala turned 7! We celebrated with the girls by giving them one of their favorite summer treats, blood popsicles. They even got some fun birthday decorations with some of their favorite meat snacks hidden inside.

On Saturday, our two ambassador cheetahs, Khayam and Mchumba celebrated their 7th birthday with tons of guests and their keepers. Our wonderful docents provided a cat friendly birthday cake (which they loved) and tons of fun paper mâché (all safe for the animals) and birthday decorations to play with. We shared the love with some of the other cheetahs, including KJ and Rhino.

On Sunday, we celebrated Easter with all our animals by providing Easter baskets, made by our docents, and giants Easter eggs filled with snacks. Check out some pictures of our animals enjoying their enrichment! And a special thank you to all our wonderful volunteers who created all these specials treats and enrichment.

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Is it a brown bear or it is a grizzly?

Carnivores

To really answer this question, let’s start by looking back at some brown bear taxonomy (the branch of science concerned with classification, especially of organisms) history, shall we?

Bear taxonomy went through many revisions before scientists recached the conclusion of Ursus arctos.In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, taxonomists frequently lumped and split brown/grizzly bears into many different species and subspecies. In 1918 the separation peaked with the publication of C. Hart Merriam’s “Review of the Grizzly and Big Brown Bears of North America.” Merriam proposed around 80 species and subspecies of North American brown bears existed. Merriam’s nuanced classifications of brown and grizzly bears were based on differences in skull morphology and dentition, which he examined in painstaking detail. Merriam classified on southeast Alaska’s Admiralty Island alone, there was 5 distinct subspecies and in the Katmai region, 2 distinct subspecies as well as other living in the Cook Inlet area and on the Kenai Peninsula. But most of the species or subspecies described by Merriam were later regarded as local variations or individual variants. As of the mid 1980’s as many as 9 extant or extinct subspecies of U.arctoswere recognized in North America.

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Russell, our resident Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear!

Which brings us to the age old saying “All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies”. Now even with all the research done by Merriam this saying still has some backing to it. Now a days there are only 3 main subspecies of brown bears recognized by most of the scientific community, Kodiak brown bears, Alaskan Coastal brown bears and Grizzly brown bears. These bears are very similar but still have their differences to classify them as different subspecies. The 2 big determining differences are size and location. Each of the subspecies are geographically and genetically isolated from the other subspecies of brown bear.

Kodiak brown bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) which main populations are only found on Kodiak Island in Alaska are the largest of the brown bear subspecies. Now these bears are not genetically different enough to be classified as their own species but are distinct enough that they can be classified as their own subspecies because they been isolated from mainland bears for over 12,000 years. Now these bears can get up to 1,500lbs and stand up to 10ft tall. Kodiak brown bears can get this big because they live on islands and they have access to a marine-driven food resource all year round with their favorite being salmon!IMG_9376

The next subspecies, very similar to Kodiak brown bears, are the Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears (Ursus arctos gyas). These bears are known as the ABC island bears  because their populations are only found on Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof island in southeast Alaska. Alaskan Coastal brown bears can reach large sizes as well, they can reach up to 1,200lbs and stand around 8 ½ to 9ft tall. Just like the Kodiak brown bears, Alaskan Coastal brown bears can reach this size because of their access to marine-driven food resources all year round with their favorite being salmon too! Alaskan Coastal brown bears are unique because they are the most genetically different compared to all other brown bears. Alaskan Coastal brown bears actually share more genetic information with polar bears than other brown bears. This could be due to interbreeding with a small isolated number of polar bears during the last ice age. As more recently, scientists have found more Alaskan Coastal brown bears with polar bear DNA in the northern parts of Alaska suggesting that there has been more interbreeding recently and possibility creating a new bear species, currently known as a “Prizzie”!

The final subspecies is the most common of the three and the reason for the main question of this post, Grizzly brown bears (Ursus arctos horribillis). Grizzlies are considered the smallest of the 3 brown bears subspecies. On average, grizzly brown bears only reach up to 900lbs and 7ft tall. Grizzly brown bears are much smaller because they are inland bears with there main populations found in southwestern Canada and the lower 48 states, they do not have easy access to a marine-driven, high calorie food resource. So Grizzly brownbears must work a little harder for their food, so they don’t build up as much fat as compared to the other 2 subspecies of brown bear. Grizzly brown bears are also known for that distinct hump on their backs. That hump is pure muscles from their shoulders as is usually used as a key morphological identifier for Grizzly brown bears. Grizzly brown bears are also found to be a bit more reactive to humans being around in the distance. This doesn’t not mean they are more aggressive than the other brown bear subspecies, but it is a behavior picked up because Grizzly brown bears are in more human populated areas compare to the other subspecies who live on mostly unpopulated islands. All three subspecies have about the same temperament.

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Now that you have the facts, what do you think? Is it a brown bear or is it a grizzly? Do you agree with the statement of “All grizzly bears are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies?” or do you think more research needs to be done? Let us know by leaving a comment

Carnivore Enrichment

Carnivores, Community, Uncategorized

To enrich means “to improve or enhance the quality or value of.” Therefore, at Wildlife Safari and similar facilities, enrichment can be defined as anything that enhances the daily lives of the animals living there. Enrichment comes in many forms: it can be a special treat, something different from an animal’s usual diet, or it can be a toy, a scent, a sound, or something for visual use. It all depends on the general interests of the targeted species and particular individuals of that species.

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One of our year old cheetah cubs enjoys foraging for meat chunks hidden inside a paper mache’ toy for their birthday.

Food-based Enrichment

           Our carnivores often receive special treats as enrichment. The bears receive fruit, biscuits, nuts, and other treats throughout each day except for the months when they are in hibernation and the weeks leading up to hibernation. Sometimes, we make them popsicles using crushed berries and water. Our big cats occasionally enjoy bloodsicles as something different and refreshing, especially on a hot day.

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Claire, one of our Alaskan brown bears, chilling out with a berry popsicle.

Toys

             Large, heavy-duty plastic barrels and balls are a popular toy for our carnivores. They also enjoy logs and boxes, both of which can be used to hide treats in or be sprayed with scents. Our big cats especially love the smell of strong perfume or cologne; they will rub themselves all over something that has been sprayed with a scent! Our 2 year old lion “cubs” have a large rope that is used for tug-of-war sessions against keepers and interns. As soon as it is ready for them, they playfully run over and get to work, using their teeth and paws to tug on it! Shredded paper is also a favorite of our big cats. It is fun to watch them roll around in, though less fun to clean up.

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Large blue barrels like this one are often used to increase foraging time for our black bears. We like to hide some of their food inside them!

Natural Enrichment

       Our brown bears have access to built-in ponds in their outdoor enclosures, simulating nature. You can even catch Mak and Oso, our Grizzly bear boys, wrestling in the water when it’s hot outside! In October, we like to give pumpkins to bite, scratch, and play with. Our lions, tigers, and cheetahs enjoy receiving giraffe sand taken from the giraffe barn. It may sound gross to humans, but just like a nice perfume, they like to rub themselves all over the stuff; it is like catnip to them!

Mistaken Identity: Brown bear or black bear?

Carnivores, Uncategorized

How can you tell a black bear from a brown bear? Well, it may not be as easy as you think. In fact, both species of bears can range in color from deep black to blonde! Brown bears are typically larger than black bears, but again there is variation in size across subspecies. The best way to tell apart the two species of bear is to look at the anatomy of their shoulders and claws.

Brown bear

Brown bears are diggers, so they have powerful muscles between their shoulders forming a large, prominent hump. They also have 4-6 inch long curved claws that are dulled to help them forage and dig dens for hibernation.

Black bears, on the other hand, are climbers. They do not need the excessive shoulder muscle or long claws. They have shorter and sharper claws for climbing trees in which they use to forage above the forest floor, and will often hibernate up in the trees as well.

Black bear

Black bear

Carnivore Foot Care

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Cheetahs, Uncategorized

The most important part of a Keeper’s job is making sure the animals are happy and healthy. One of the things we look for every day is the health of their feet!

Everyday, the carnivore Keepers at Wildlife Safari will get a good look at paws to make sure everyone has beautiful feet.

We look for any peeling, abrasions or cuts and if we need to we can disinfect them. We do this through their training – if they show us their paws in exchange for a treat its a very low stress check up!

 

One of our female lions showing her “sit up” behaviour

While we check this through the fence with our larger carnivores such as lions, tigers and bears, we can get much more hands on with our ambassador cheetahs. These guys will hand keepers their paw so we can not only visually check, but also feel for anything sore or tender.

Khayam the cheetah gives his keeper his paw during a training session

Keepers will also regularly put moisturizing oil on the floor of the huts where the animals sleep at night. As they walk through, this oil helps paw pads stay supple and healthy.

If keepers notice anyone with dry paw pads, they will increase how often this moisturizing oil is used. This helps our animals’ feet to stay healthy in all weather!

 

                                      

Don’t Feed the Bears!

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Nearly everyone is familiar with the warning: “don’t feed the bears.” Signs with this message are posted around popular hiking grounds, state parks, and campsites with the hopes to inform people of the dangers of feeding wild bears.

The biggest problem that arises when people feed wild bears is that the bears become accustomed to human food and human contact, which can lead to them being classified as “problem bears” by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The exact specifications of a “problem bear” can vary from state-to-state, but the repercussions are the same nearly everywhere.

“Problem bears” are typically black or brown bears that have come in contact with people roughly three times, and if they are determined a threat to public safety they may be legally euthanized or relocated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. When this does occur, the department is not always aware of cubs that the bear may have had, which often leaves them orphaned to fend for themselves. But if these cubs are found and discovered unfit to be re-released into the wild, zoos will often take them in and give them a second chance.

Wildlife Safari is dedicated to helping bears that needed a second chance, and is currently home to seven bears: two grizzly bears- Mak and Oso; two Alaskan coastal bears- Claire and Russell; and three black bears- Takoda, Chochmo, and Donna.

(Left to right: Black bear Takoda, Alaskan Coastal brown bear Claire and Grizzly bear Mak)

All seven of our bears live very comfortable, enriched lives at Wildlife Safari. They receive daily enrichment in the form of food to forage for throughout the day, ice treats on hot days, toys in huts, climbing structures, and pools/ponds to swim in- just to name a few.

(Bear climbing structure; black bear Chochmo enjoying a popsicle)

Unlike the cheetah breeding program that Wildlife Safari is best known for, we do not have a breeding program in place for our bears. Since black and brown bears are not endangered or vulnerable to extinction in the wild, breeding bears in captivity would be simply adding to the problem. So rather than bringing more bears into the world, we prefer to provide a home for bears in need. Every visit you make to Wildlife Safari helps support our bears by helping us give them the second chance that they all deserve!

Always remember to keep all food properly stored whether you are camping, or at home, and please do not feed the bears!

 

Summer is Coming!

Community, Uncategorized

Summer is well on its way, and with it come a host of fantastic events at Wildlife Safari!

Roars and Snores –  24-25th June,12-13th August

One of our female lions having a snooze

Ever wanted to wake up to the sound of lions roaring? At Roars and Snores you can! Roars and Snores lets you help feed the lions dinner and learn more about them, then camp out in the lion’s day time enclosure and enjoy s’mores!

Sisters Serafina and Mtai

Run like a Cheetah 5k – 15th July

If you love running, there’s nothing better than running by the world’s fastest land animal! Wildlife Safari’s fun run event will take you past our cheetah pens. Run alongside Dayo, the puppy that works as a cheetah companion, and enjoy the chance to run on the wild side!

 

 

Summer Camp – 14-17th, 21-24th August

Animal encounters, games, crafts – do it all at Wildlife Safari’s summer camps! Camps are available to kids aged 4-11 and are a great chance for kids to learn and play over the summer break. Themes this year include ‘Rain Forest Expedition’, ‘Living with Wild Neighbors’, and ‘Animal Sleuths’ – check out our website for registration and more information.

Summer Camp fun!

 

Party at Bear Island – 17th June

Bear keepers will set up a bear friendly ‘camp site’ to play in, complete with toys and snacks, then watch as the bears explore! You can even buy feed cups so you can throw snacks to the bears yourself!

Oso the grizzly bear saying hello

Hunting How-To: Animal Hunting Styles

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Lions

Lions are nocturnal animals so they generally hunt at night. Most of the foods they consume include wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, gazelles, waterbuck, warthogs, and in riskier instances, giraffes and buffalo. Lions will stalk prey from a very close distance during the day and then wait until after dark to strike. Although they have reputations as apex predators, there are some deficiencies in their hunting tactics. Due to their reliance on eyesight, they often inadvertently reveal their hiding spot because they peak their head out to monitor the movement of their prey. They also do not pay attention to the direction of winds so their scent is easily detected. Finally, they can only get up to 50 mph, which is much slower than their prey.

Despite these hunting deficiencies, lions remain successful hunters because of the numerous prey in the area and the fact that lions hunt in groups. A lion only eats about 25 to 30 animals per year and their prey is highly abundant so they have plenty of options to choose from. Lions are the only cats that hunt in a group, which is the main reason why they are able to take down larger prey. They close in on their prey as a group and attack from the rear or side. The final kill is made by crushing their prey’s windpipe leading to asphyxiation or rupturing major arteries in the neck. The female lions do most of the hunting in prides but they only eat after the adult males, then its the cubs turn. Each lion consumes about 40 pounds of meat in one sitting and over the next couple days they will rest and recuperate to repeat the hunting process all over again.

Some of our lion cubs enjoying a rib cage together – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Tigers

As nocturnal animals, tigers mainly rely on their vision to help stalk their prey. Unlike cheetahs and lions, they mostly live in habitats that have a lot of vegetation making camouflage with their surroundings more effective. Tigers generally hunt alone and will silently stalk their prey nearby for a very long time. Once close enough, they will pounce and either snap their victim’s spinal cord or grab their throat, which contains essential arteries. Tigers are able to reach speeds of 30 to 50 mph and can jump 30 feet horizontally, which also helps them take down their prey. They will then drag their meal to an isolated area and will often hide the remnants to finish the next day.

A tiger can eat one fifth of its body weight in 24 hours and over a year they average 50 deer-sized meals. In terms of what they eat, tigers like to consume many different species, which vary depending on the region the tiger inhabits. Overall, their prey consist of moose, pigs, cows, horses, buffalo, goats, deer species, and occasionally tapirs, elephants, rhinoceros calves, small bear species, leopards, and wild dogs. Unlike other cats, tigers are great swimmers and occasionally they will hunt in the water and catch animals like fish and crocodiles.

 

Kemala the Sumatran Tiger showing off her exceptional jaw strength – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Cheetahs

Cheetahs are the only big cats that are diurnal, meaning they hunt during the day, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. They are also solitary animals so they hunt alone, however in some instances a few males will hunt together forming coalitions. Due to the fact that cheetahs don’t have the cover of night to hide them like most predators, they have had to adapt very unique hunting techniques. Cheetahs have binocular vision that allows them to see up to three miles away very clearly and spot prey long before their prey can see them. On top of their incredible sight, cheetahs also utilize stealth and camouflage when approaching their target. They will use the tactics of any good hunter such as moving low in tall grasses, approaching from downwind to conceal their scent, and using natural rises in the land like hills or termite mounds to hide behind.

Despite using all of these precautions, hunting remains a challenge because their prey live in herds, meaning they are constantly on watch for any potential danger. A cheetah’s diet generally consists of smaller hoofed animals like wildebeest, gazelles, and impalas. Although the cheetahs are excellent hunters, their greatest advantage in capturing prey is their speed. Cheetahs can run up to 70 mph, but they are only able to run at this speed for about 20-30 seconds. Since they are only able to run at fast speeds for around 500 meters, they must position themselves as close as possible to their prey before attacking. This is why it is essential for cheetahs to have both speed and superior camouflage. Cheetahs are successful in killing their prey 1 out of 10 tries, however most of the time their meal gets taken away by larger carnivores like lions, hyenas, wild dogs, and leopards. They might be predators, but they know when to walk away from a fight. An injury could be life threatening, so they are better off giving up their meal and trying again.

 

Mchumba licking up every bit of her mid-day snack – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

Bears

Despite their reputation as bloodthirsty animals, the majority of a bear’s diet is actually herbivorous. Bears are generally omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of meats and plants. The two most common bears in North America are the black bear and brown bears. Although, black bears are not as well equipped as brown bears to dig, 85% of a black bears’ diet consists of vegetation including grasses, roots, berries, acorns, nuts, grass and other plants. Furthermore, they receive most of their protein from insects, especially bees. The idea that bears like honey actually originated from the fact that bears enjoy feeding on bee larvae because of the high nutritional value. In addition to insects and vegetation, some black bears will catch salmon, trout, suckers, and catfish depending on the availability in their habitat.

 

Donna enjoying the sunshine and waiting to get fed – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

 

  Brown bears, on the other hand, are excellent diggers so almost 90% of their diet comes from vegetation. They eat a variety of plant life such as berries, grasses, flowers, acorns, nuts, pine cones, as well as mosses, fungi, and mushrooms. Similarly to black bears, brown bears feed on insects and most will get half of their yearly calories from moths alone. Brown bears also feed on fish more often than black bears, which is why they are a larger species. Despite the fact that both species mostly consume plant life, they still get some of their calories from meat. Although they are capable of and in rare cases do hunt, bears actually prefer to scavenge off other animals’ kills. Why catch your own when someone else has already done the work? In more recent years, as urban development has expanded, bears have been also using human-created food sources as a reliable meal, which has become dangerous to both parties. 

Mak eating his daily dose of greens while helping us with landscaping – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta