©Bert Gildart: “Bears,” Janie said. “Black bears, and just look at those adorable little cubs. Three of ‘em!”
We were in Jasper National Park driving the tiny potholed road to Cavell Glacier (which we drove last fall), when Janie made her discovery. The bears were on a small wooded hill, out in the open, and they were all playing-though that’s not the way it appeared. First one would run over to a tree and assume a position that implied “climb.” Suddenly, another bolted over and attempted to pull it down. Several times it succeeded, then, on the ground they’d nip and snap, but without the force and anger needed to inflict real pain. These little guys were having a ball!
But what got us both was the size, and then we realized they probably had not been out of hibernation too long, and we recalled as well that all bears have a most usual method of fertilization.
Mating takes place in late summer, but sows store and delay final implantation of the sperm until their bodies are in a reproductive condition, which occurs in the fall. Growth of the embryo then occurs, but there’s not much time before they’re born. As a result, when the cubs are born, usually in February, they weigh little more than a pound.
When we saw them just a day or so ago, none appeared to weigh more than 15 to 20 pounds. Little wonder cubs remain with the sow until they are almost two years old.
Unlike grizzly bears, black bears are excellent climbers, and as we watched the sow suddenly let out a grunt and all three scurried up trees, two in one. Seconds later several motorcycles roared up the road, and that’s apparently what had alerted the sow. When the cyclist passed the cubs descended and again we watched them and photographed them.
Though I’ve often seen black bears (and grizzly bears, for that matter), never have I seen a black bear with her cubs for such an extended period. What was particularly interesting is that one of the cubs was brown in color while the other two were black.
TRYING TO OBSCURE OUR INTENTIONS
We continued to watch and photograph them for well over an hour. Each time we’d hear a car approach, we’d turn as though we were removing something from the car. As well, I’d scurry with my tripod mounted lens to the far side of our truck.
From experience we both know that many people start yelling and screaming when they see bears, and that type of behavior certainly doesn’t benefit our cause.
Though Janie and I are not sure why the bears tolerated our presence for so long, we hope it was not because they had been fed. Generally when that happens bears loose all fear of people and begin showing up in campgrounds. Jasper National Park officials are working hard to prevent that occurrence and all of their campgrounds are designated “Bare Proof Campgrounds,” meaning they are barren of food when campers are absent. If not offending items are confiscated, campers may be issued a citation and in some cases, asked to leave.
We worked with extremely long Nikon lenses (400 to 800mm) and are delighted for the rare opportunity that presented itself while in Jasper National Park. This park never fails as we learned last fall.
NEWS NOTES: We have no connectivity so our postings are being made from Internet Café’s-when we can find them. At the moment I’m in LouLou’s Pizzeria in Jasper, Alberta.