As the spring weather begins, albeit very slowly, to roll in to Newfoundland, the island’s black bear population wake from their winter slumber.
As an Australian, I find bears fascinating. There are no bears that live in Australia, and if you’re thinking about Koala’s, I have news for you, they aren’t bears. They’re marsupials. So ya’ll gotta stop calling them Koala Bears. It’s just plain wrong! In fact, there’s a song about it!
But I digress.
Black bears are masters of adaptation and spend several months of the year unconscious. In April and May, and even later in certain regions on Newfoundland, these large animals will be slowly rousing from their slumber. They will have lost half of their body fat, and magically none of their muscle or bone density!
That may not sound too out there for you, but the concept of hibernation still blows my mind.
Most people know that during hibernation these animals will have eaten, and drank nothing. But did you know that they also will not have urinated or defecated? That’s 6 months without peeing, talk about needing to go!
This is where it really gets impressive: in spite of all that, the females will have managed to give birth to the next generation of young cubs. Tiny babies that will now be around 5lbs each.These cubs will stay with their mother all summer and hibernate with her again over next winter. After that however, she’ll boot them off into the big bad world all on their own.
There are about 6000-10000 black bears in Newfoundland, which is roughly 2% of the total black bear population of North America.These coastal creatures are slightly different from their mainland counterparts however, more notably in size.
The Newfoundland black bear is generally larger, ranging in size from 90 to 270 kilograms (200 to 600 lb) and averaging 135 kilograms (298 lb).
Amazingly these huge animals are able to disappear during the winter months, usually under a tree stump or log, where they will remain for one of the longest hibernation periods of any bear in North America.
Probably the most impressive thing about bears, is delayed implantation.
Did you know that although black bears mate in June/July, the female will not technically get pregnant until the fall?
This is because the embryo will not implant into the uterus until the fall. And this will only happen if the female has gained enough body fat to see her through the winter months when she is hibernating.
So where can you get a glimpse at these impressive animals? Well they are very shy, and rarely seen around humans. In Newfoundland your best chances are the national parks, both Terra Nova and Gros Morne provide campers with information on bear safety.
Always remember that black bears don’t turn down a snack. These hungry hungry hippos will go to incredible lengths for a meal. Bears are constantly looking for food and will spend up to eight hours a day foraging. They’re vegetarians for the most part, and feed primarily on berries and nuts. Black bears are poor hunters, though they will catch fish during spawning season, and if they’re able to ambush a fawn or moose calf in the spring, they will.
Algonquin Park reminds visitors to always pack up food, and never store it in a tent. When bears are drawn to cabins or campsites, it’s because they’re looking for food. And if they find it, they’ll be back. Bears have an excellent long-term memories, especially when it comes to where they’ve found food in the past.
So always remember to be safe when admiring these amazing animals!