Grizzly Bears Features
The grizzly bear – or brown bear – is one of Alberta’s two bear species. Coat colour is not always the best way of telling the two species apart; grizzlies vary from blonde to dark brown, while black bears are even more variable, ranging from yet black to white. Grizzlies are better distinguished by a shoulder hump, and a flatter, dish-shaped face. Males, at 2-300 kg, are larger than females, at 1-200 kg.
Grizzly bears are true omnivores. They will eat meat or carrion whenever they can find it, as well as fish and insects, but a large part of their diet is plant matter: roots, grasses, berries etc. In the fall, grizzlies are almost entirely focused on building up the fat reserves to last them through their winter hibernation. If they can feed well enough, they stand a good chance of surviving the winter: if not they won’t. High energy food sources such as berries or whitebark pine seeds are crucial at this time of year.
Grizzlies need a huge range to supply their needs. Female home ranges are from 150 - 3,000 km2; male home ranges are from 500 – 5,000 km2. Grizzly bear populations are limited by a slow reproductive rate. In Alberta, females first produce cubs at age 4 - 8 years; litter sizes are small, and cubs are only produced every 3 – 4 years.
Historically, Alberta is estimated to have held 6-9,000 grizzly bears. Grizzlies ranged across the whole of Alberta, across Saskatchewan and into Manitoba. Alberta’s current population estimate is 581 bears (not including parts of the National Parks and the Swan Hills area). The Alberta government uses World Conservation Union figures, which suggest that a population of less than 1,000 breeding individuals should be listed as threatened. The 2002 recommendation of the government’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee recommended that the grizzly should to designate the grizzly as threatened has still not been acted upon.