After a startling drop in numbers, black bear populations in Alabama are back on the rise. How can you help ensure this continues? Keep your distance from them, no matter how cute and cuddly they may appear.
READY TO EAT Black bears are poor predators, and their diet consists mostly of plant matter and insects. The opportunistic feeders are highly adaptive and will snack on whatever is available, including honey-filled beehives, agricultural crops and garbage. Once they have found food in one place, the extremely intelligent creatures will likely remember the spot and return for more.
MATERNAL INSTINCT Baby black bears are usually born in winter and will stay with their mothers for the first year of life. Mother bears are very protective of their cubs and can become aggressive if they sense a threat.
TREE HUGGERS Despite their large size, black bears are excellent climbers. Their strong hind legs help them swiftly ascend a tree when seeking safety, a nap or just a look around.
PERSONS UNKNOWN Black bears are shy and solitary and generally prefer to avoid people altogether. In fact, a fear of humans is the most important aspect of their survival. When we feed, bait or otherwise convince bears that people aren’t so scary, we condition them to walk fearlessly into highways, homes, farms and other places where they pose a threat to humans and themselves.
POWER NAPPING During a two-month pseudo-hibernation in wintertime, black bears’ heart rates and temperatures drop to help them survive the cold. In this dormancy period, they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate.
Bear with Us
Daniel Powell with the Alabama Black Bear Allliance discusses Creola’s bear cohabitation issues.
- Creola, located in north Mobile County near I-65 and Celeste Road, has evolved from timber production area to residential. The inhabitants of these new subdivisions are living, according to Powell, “right in the middle of bear country.”
- Problems arise when the people of Creola give food to the bears – intentionally or not. This feeding helps them become habituated to humans. “You know you have a problem when you raise your garage door, and seven 200-pound bears come to see what garbage you’ve put out.”
- “Bears are very, very smart, ” Powell says. “When you a put a feeder out and a bear comes to it, he quickly realizes that he can come to that feeder and get something to eat. Next thing you know, he’s in your garage, he’s eating your elk food, he’s on your porch.”
- Powell warns that increased contact with humans can lead to more attacks, as the normally shy and skittish creatures begin to treat humans like their fellow bears. “Creola is not at that point yet, but they are not far from it.” Powell says.
- What’s the takeaway here? Don’t feed the bears! Don’t bait them either. And take pains to keep any garbage and wildlife feeders out of reach.
Many thanks to the Alabama Wildlife Federation, the Alabama Black Bear Alliance and the Black Bear Conservation Committee of Baton Rouge for assistance. For more information, visit alabamawildlife.org.
text by HALEY POTTS • illustration by kelan mercer