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Grizzly Bear Society: year one

Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary

Deep in a cozy den in the Khutzeymateen a mother bear will give birth to up to four small premature cubs which will suckle until spring. This is the beginning of a fairly complicated, highly structured, social life of the grizzly which will last approximately twenty five years.

At the end of May or early June the “cubs of the year” emerge from the den with their mother to experience their first summer. During this first summer the grizzly bear cubs are quite helpless and depend on their mothers for their food and safety.

As the female matures so do her motherly skills, and she becomes experienced in her ability to protect the cubs. A female grizzly with her first set of cubs is far more likely to lose them through an encounter with a male grizzly than she would be in the same situation with her second set of cubs. She will also be physically larger and mentally wiser during the second and progressive sets of cubs, making her better equipped to defend herself and her offspring from male grizzlies.

Two baby grizzly cubs

Two baby bears waiting for Mom

The cubs first year is a time of great joy and learning. With bountiful energy and youthful innocence, the cubs tear around exploring, climbing, sticking their nose into, and tripping over everything in sight. Like all young animals, including humans, this first year for a grizzly is a carefree time to play and experience. Throughout this summer a cub will begin learning valuable lessons that will help it survive in later life.

During this first summer the cubs will nurse every couple of hours. When a mother with cubs emerges from her winter den to graze on the sedge meadows, the cubs stay close by her side. She will return to her day den, just inside the tree line, every time she nurses. The mother quickly grows weary of these frequent trips. She soon finds a convenient spot close to her grazing area, and lays back to suckle her bawling cubs. This first summer the cubs are mainly fed on mothers milk, but throughout the summer while mirroring their mother they will nibble on whatever she is eating.

Cubs of the year are extremely vulnerable during this first summer. It is very unlikely that all the cubs will make it through the season. The main threat to cubs is male grizzlies. Killing the cubs stops the female from nursing, which brings her back into estrus, thus allowing the male to attempting mating with her. Cubs may accidentally fall off steep cliffs of the rugged north coast terrain while climbing to incredible heights while attempting to escape male grizzlies. Perched high on narrow ledges, where only mountain goats dare to go, the unsteady footing of a cub makes them extremely vulnerable. This will ensure survival of the fittest.

Fatalities also occur during river and creek crossings which are done several times a day. The cubs will cling to their mothers fur with their teeth and claws. If their grip is lost the cubs will be swept away and drown.

A grizzly bear and cub

A baby bear clings to it’s mothers back

During this first summer the cubs are continually learning from their mother. Knowledge of where to find the best sedge grasses, herbs, roots, berries, and hot fishing spots are shared as are methods of food gathering techniques. Mothers will share their territory with the cubs which may someday become their permanent home. Cubs learn valuable lessons in all aspects of life through watching their mothers actions. Adequate nutrition as well as staying in tuned to danger will ensure the cubs survival and longevity. If cubs survives this first precarious summer, they will have successfully passed their most vulnerable stage of life.

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