The Bear Truth

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

last for up to 20 hours a day. Gorging on ripe acorns can result in an animal gaining as much as two pounds of fat per day. Acorns are a critical food source for Ozark black bears. When the acorn crop goes bust, pregnant sows enter hibernation in such poor shape their fetuses will not survive.

Colder weather and reduced daylight combine to signal black bears that it's time to find a den. Just before a pregnant sow dens, the free- floating blastocyst finally implants itself in their uterine wall. While the sow remains in her winter den--in a rock cavern, in a hollow dug out under a log, or in any other protected location--the fetuses will gestate for two months.

Cubs are born while the female is still sleeping. And although a hibernating sow does not eat or drink, if she was in good physical shape when she entered her den she will produce enough milk to support her cubs until they emerge in springtime.

A bear cub's life is fraught with danger. Some studies suggest only 40 to 50 percent of them will survive to their third birthday. Young sows or sows in less than peak condition sometimes abandon their cubs. Some cubs will be killed by dogs or coyotes while others will be hit by vehicles. Because of all these hazards, bear populations usually grow slowly.

Through the years, Missouri bears have behaved themselves in near-model fashion, but there have been scattered incidents, mainly bears robbing beehives for honey, or stealing dog food. One bear killed a few goats.

The good news is that no people have been attacked. But good news has a way of insulating folks from danger that could materialize at any moment. When people lose their fear of and respect for these powerful animals, as when bears lose their fear of people, trouble can develop quickly.

A good example comes from upper New York state, where an aspiring wildlife photographer spotted a bear foraging. He lured it closer with tuna fish, placed the can on the ground and backed up to take photos. The bear, busy gobbling up the tuna, turned its rear end to the man.

The man grabbed the can away, put it back where he wanted it and once more backed off with his camera. When the bear turned its back again, the man became infuriated. He kicked the bear in its big, furry behind and put

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