Wildlife in British Columbia
APPEARANCE: Black bears vary a great deal in both size and color. Although black is the most common color, there can
be periods of time when black bears are shades of brown. Others have white coats (Kermode bears) and
one of the rarest has a pale-blue coat (glacier bears). Both of these are found in British Columbia. The size
of an adult male black bear can range from 50 to 75 inches and they can weigh anywhere from 130 to 660
pounds. Adult females are also between 50 and 75 inches tall, but weigh 90 to 175 pounds. At birth, a cub
usually weighs about 7 to 11 ounces.
DIET: Black bears are omnivores and will feed whatever is available: insects, nuts, berries, grasses and other
vegetation, as well as meat, such as deer or moose, particularly the young. Salmon is also a common food
for black bears in British Columbia.
REPRODUCTION: Breeding season is June, July and August, and the two bears will remain together for only a few hours or at
most several days. Black bears are very solitary, except for females with cubs. The pregnancy lasts about
220 days, with cubs being born in January and February (in a maternity den). The litters range between 1
and 5 cubs, though 2 is the average. Cubs stay with their mothers for about a year and a half, so mating is
limited to every two years.
HABITAT: Black bears are the most widely distributed of British Columbia’s large mammals. Virtually the entire
province, including the outer coast and islands, is occupied black bear habitat. Humans have settled 8%
of the province (primarily in the Lower Mainland, southeastern Vancouver Island and the Okanagan),
but even parts of the densely settled areas still support black bears. Only about 5% of the total area of the
province has been permanently lost as black bear habitat. These include core urban and industrial areas,
major highways and large hydro reservoirs.
British Columbia’s black bear population is currently at an historic high. The Wildlife Branch estimates
that 120,000 to 160,000 black bears live in British Columbia, having increased from around 80,000 in
1870. (Demarchi 1999). This is nearly 30% of the 443,000 black bears in the Canadian population and
approximately 15% of the 803,000 black bears in the North American population (Samuel and Jackson
STATUS OF BLACK BEARS
Black bears are the most common large carnivore in North America. At a recent black bear workshop for
the U.S. and Canada, scientists concluded that black bears are long lived (20+ years), adaptable, highly
mobile and more productive than previously thought. The current range of black bears includes all of the
Canadian provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island, most of the continental United States in
the less-settled forested regions and the northwestern mountains of Mexico.
Black bears are Yellow-listed in BC, which means they are neither endangered nor vulnerable. They
are, however, classified as a “look-alike” species and are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on the
International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), to which British Columbia is a signatory. They are
listed because individual black bears are highly variable in size and color and some black bears are similar
in appearance to some threatened or endangered species of world bears, such as the Malaysian sun bear.
British Columbia and Ontario have the largest populations of black bears of all the provinces. In British
Columbia, black bears are found throughout the province. They are the only large mammal in the province
that occupies every ecosection.
Black bears may be both predator and prey. Black bears can be prey for other predators, particularly grizzly
bears. In addition, black bear cubs and adult females can be cannibalized by male black bears. Black
bears can be significant predators of young deer, elk, moose and caribou in some areas of North America,
particularly where they do not have competition from other predators, such as grizzly bears and wolves.
The tracks of this slightly pigeon-toed creature are characterized by the overlapping of the hind prints onto
those of the front. The heel pad of the rear foot is long and vaguely resembles that of a human. Five toes
with equally long claws are evenly spaced along the top of this pad.
Seeing a bear can be one of the most memorable experiences of a wilderness vacation, but it is our
responsibility to respect the bear in its home. This means we must not force bears to leave their habitat,
teach them to eat human foods, or place bears in situations where people or bears could get hurt.
Preparation and education are essential to ensure our encounters with bears in the wild are positive and free
Each year in the province, several people are attacked
and injured or killed in encounters with both black bears
and grizzly bears. While most black bears are more likely
to run away from a human than attack, the number of
people attacked by black bears in the province each year is about the same as the number attacked by the
less abundant grizzly. These numbers have been increasing as both the number of people and the number
of bears steadily increase.
Distribution – The black bear inhabits heavily forested areas, dense bush and wooded mountains throughout
most of British Columbia. They tend to wander a great distance, some male adults having lifetime ranges of
500 to 620 square miles.
Bears are everywhere. We see them on the side of the highway, on logging roads, on the way to a campsite,
near towns, or in the bush when hiking or working. Bears will usually hide from people, but remember: just
because you don’t see a bear, doesn’t mean they aren’t around.
British Columbia has about one-quarter of all black bears in Canada, and half of all grizzly bears.
There are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island, and there are few or no grizzlies in the heavily settled
Lower Mainland or the dry, southern areas of the province.
Safety essentials when in Bear country:
Each bear encounter is unique. No hard and fast rules can be applied when dealing with a
potentially complex situation. Respect all bears – they all can be dangerous.
- Be alert.
- Never approach a bear, especially bear cubs.
- Avoid conflict by practicing prevention.
There is no guaranteed minimum safe distance from a bear – the further, the better. Photographing bears can be dangerous. Use a long- range telephoto lens.
Never attempt to feed a bear. Stay away from dead animals, as bears may attack to defend such
Be defensive – never surprise a bear.
Make your presence known by talking loudly, clapping,
singing, or occasionally calling out.
Look for signs of recent bear activity. These include droppings, tracks, evidence of digging, and
claw or bite marks on trees.
It is best not to hike with dogs, as they can antagonize bears and cause an attack. An unleashed
dog may bring a bear back to you.
Learn about bears. Anticipate and avoid encounters. Know what to do if you encounter a bear.
Odors attract bears. Reduce or eliminate odors from yourself, your camp, your clothes, and your
vehicle. Don’t sleep in the same clothes you cook in. Properly store food, including pet food, so that bears
cannot smell or reach it. Don’t keep food in your tent – not even a chocolate bar. Pack out all garbage.
Whenever you spot or encounter a black bear:
- Stop. Do not panic. Remain calm
- Do not try to get closer to the bear for a better look or picture. Never feed a bear
- Do not run, climb a tree or swim
- Quickly assess the situation and try to determine which type of an encounter this might be
- Always watch the bear. While watching the bear, slowly back away until the bear is out of sight
- If you are near a building or vehicle get inside as a precaution
- If you are berry picking, or enjoying other outdoor activities like hiking, jogging cycling or camping
leave the area
- Tell others about bear activity in the area
The most dangerous bears are:
- Bears habituated to human food
- Females defending cubs
- Bears defending a fresh kill
- Cute, friendly, and apparently not interested in you
- Bears can run as fast as horses uphill or downhill.
- Bears can climb trees, although black bears are better tree-climbers than grizzly bears
- Bears have excellent senses of smell and hearing, and better sight than many people believe.
- Bears are strong. They can tear cars apart looking for food.
Every bear defends a “personal space”. The extent of this space will vary with each bear and each
situation; it may be a few meters or a few hundred meters. Intrusion into this space is considered a threat
and may provide an attack.
Bears aggressively defend their food.
All female bears defend their cubs. If a female with cubs is surprised at close range or is separated
from her cubs, she may attack. An aggressive response is the mother grizzly’s natural defense against
danger to her young.
A female black bear’s natural defense is to chase her cubs up a tree and defend them from the base.
However, she is still dangerous and may become aggressive if provoked.
If you encounter a bear at the roadside:
Remain in your vehicle. Don’t get out even for a “quick photo”.
Keep your windows up.
Do not impede the bear from crossing the road.
If you park to view bears at a distance, leave your car well off the road to avoid accidents
Description – The fur of this large animal is short and reddish-brown to gray-brown with white on the
underside; the tail is black-tipped. The head is fairly small with small, rounded ears and large feet. The
average adult male weighs 125 pounds and the female 100 pounds. This is the largest wild cat native to
The cougar occurs in B.C. from the Canada/USA border to Big Muddy River on the Alaska
Highway. Although they have not yet reached the Queen Charlotte Islands, they can be found on most
other coastal islands. This animal is found only in the western hemisphere of the Americas generally in
Biology - Although there is no fixed mating season, 1-6 young are usually born midsummer in a den
where they are raised only with the female and remain with her for 1-2 years. The cougar is a strong,
solitary, strongly territorial hunting species that requires an undisturbed game-rich wilderness.
on large animals to mice; the cougar is capable of killing a 600 pound moose or elk. An adult male needs
no more than 14-20 mule deer per year to survive. The female has a distinct scream that has been described
as “nerve-wracking, demoniac, terror-striking, a trilling wail”.
Cougar Tracks Tracks – The cougars tracks rarely show evidence of the claw. The front feet are larger than the rear and generally the toes spread wider with speed. A distinctive feature of this creature in snowy areas is tail marks on the snow.
Due to the growth of urban areas, cougar ranges increasingly overlap with areas inhabited by humans. Attacks on humans are rare, as cougar prey recognition is a learned behavior and they do not generally recognize humans as prey.
As with many predators, a cougar may attack if cornered, if a fleeing human being stimulates its instinct to
chase, or if a person “plays dead”. Exaggerating the threat to the animal through intense eye contact, loud
but calm shouting, and any other action to appear larger and more menacing, may make the animal retreat.
Fighting back with sticks and rocks, or even bare hands, is often effective in spurring an attacking cougar
to disengage. When the cougar does attack, it usually employs its characteristic neck bite, attempting
to position its teeth between the vertebrae and into the spinal cord. Neck, head, and spinal injuries
are common and sometimes fatal. Children are at greatest risk of attack, and least likely to survive an
Bighorn Mountain Sheep
Description – This muscular bodied animal is covered with a brown coat, the belly, rump, back of legs,
muzzle and eye patch are white. The most distinct feature of the mature male is a set of massive horns
which spiral backwards from the top of the head. The hooves are hard on the outside and soft on the inside
making it an excellent climber and jumper.
During the rutting season, the adult males engage in fierce jousting matches and crash head-on into
each other with an impact that can be heard two kilometres away. Their chief predator is the cougar, but
unattended kids are often taken by the golden eagle. Their heads, with their magnificent horns, are prized
Tracks – The track of the Bighorn Sheep has a straighter edge and is less pointed than that of the deer with a
blockier shape and small hollow on the inside of the hoof. Regardless of these differences, the tracks of the
deer and Bighorn Sheep are easily confused.
Distribution – The bighorn sheep can be found in the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to Colorado
and parts of Nevada, western Texas and eastern California and northern Mexico. Most sheep ranges are
within easy range of cliffs with avalanche chutes and talus slopes which they use to escape from predators.
Biology – This sheep tends to be a grazing animal and feeds on grasses such as wheatgrass, bluegrass and
Junegrass. The rutting season is from mid-September to late October. During this time the males have
butting contests where they may reach one another at speeds of 50-70 miles per hour and an estimated force
of 2400 pounds. The maximum life span is 16-18 years but and average is about 7-8 years. Most die during
the winter from cold, perdition or disease due to malnutrition. The bighorn has always been prized for
their meat; the horns were used by some Indians to make powerful bows and are still prized by hunters as
A Rocky Mountain bighorn ram’s horns can weigh 30 pounds (14 kilograms)—more than all the bones in
his body combined. Females (ewes) also have horns, but they are of smaller size.
Bighorn sheep are gregarious, sometimes forming herds of over 100 individuals, but small groups of 8-10
are more common. Mature males usually stay apart from females and young for most of the year in separate
bachelor herds. They migrate seasonally, using larger upland areas in the summer and concentrating in
sheltered valleys during the winter.