American Black Bears
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A Bear is not an animal that we often see, except perhaps in zoos and yet there are eight different species of bear roaming around our planet. The first bears appeared nearly 20 million years ago and many of their descendants still live in the wild today.
American Black Bears are the most common, there are about 400,000 of them. In fact, there are more of these bears than there are of all the other bear species put together. The name Black Bear is however a bit misleading, although most of them have black fur, some are actually brown or white in colour.
When they are born, they are just over 20 cm long and weigh as little 350 grams, about the size of a small squirrel. When they are this small, they live in the safety of their den with their mother, feeding off her milk. They make a very noisy humming noise as they feed.
These dens can be built under fallen logs, in a burrow or at the top of tall trees. The dens are made and lined with branches, twigs and leaves. Underground dens often have a short tunnel leading into them, however, one very enthusiastic bear had dug an entrance tunnel over 6 metres long! Dens are usually very small, just big enough for the mother bear and her cubs. This is because small dens are much easier to keep warm, making it a much safer, cosier place to bring up young and shelter from the winter.
The cubs don’t always stay this small of course and the largest black bear ever recorded weighed a huge 365 kilograms, which is about the same as nine large Labrador dogs. Even when they are this big, they can run extremely quickly, reaching speeds of up to 40 km per hour.
When spring arrives, mother and cubs leave the den together; by this time the cubs are a lot bigger and more able to cope with the outside world. They do not become adult bears until they are over 4 years old and often stay with their mother for the first 1 to 2 years of their lives. After this, female bears remain close to where their mother lives whereas male bears wander off to find somewhere new to live.
Black bears eat lots of different food including fish, insects, fruit and even tree bark. They will also eat food left by unwary human visitors, so people who are visiting bear country must be careful to take away all their food and make sure the bears can’t steal it from the campsites.
They eat a lot more during autumn to prepare them for the winter, when they will go to their dens and not eat until the following spring. Some bears may spend up to 20 hours every day eating during the autumn. In human terms, the average amount a bear eats at this time of year is the same as you eating 40 burgers and 10 large portions of chips each day! Obviously the bears put on a lot of weight, but this is very useful as it means they have enough fat stores to survive the winter ahead. As some Black Bears stay in their dens, without food or drink for up to 6 months each year, it is important that they each as much as they can.
Luckily for Black Bears, there are plenty of places for them to still live in the wild and their numbers are increasing. They live in many areas of the America and throughout Canada. There are many special places where people can go and see these bears in their natural homes, without disturbing them. People who have watched these incredible animals in the wild are amazed by them and hope that they will continue to flourish well into the future.