May 17, 2012

Are You Bear Aware?

One thing that makes Alaska so special is that all three species of North American bears flourish here.  While the chances of seeing a polar bear in Anchorage are slim to none, unless at the Zoo, it is not uncommon to see brown and black bears in and around town.  In fact, at last count Anchorage was home to 250-350 black bears and 55-65 brown bears!  In a city of 260,000 or so people, that's a lot of bears!!! There is a chance that you may be lucky enough to see a bear, but even if you don't, chances are you will never be far from one.  Kind of an eerie thought right?!   

Many species, including bears, are valued as symbols of wild Alaska, and most Anchorage residents have some appreciation for the wildlife that live here. However, the privilege of living in bear country also comes with great responsibilities and as Anchorage continues to grow, interactions between wildlife and people are also increasing.  Problems arise when black and brown bears are attracted to food sources easily obtained around human establishments. Bears frequenting neighborhoods for food are often perceived as risks to people or their pets and are sometimes killed by residents or authorities.  Therefore, certain precautions need to be taken in order minimize the number of human/bear interactions and to live safely amongst some of the world's largest land predators. Whether it is keeping the garbage at your home secure, or maintaining a clean campsite, your behavior often dictates the bear’s behavior.

Bear Aware at the Alaska Zoo was all about educating the community on how  they can be more "bear aware" - how to read bear behavior, how to use bear spray safely, how to keep a bear-aware home or camp site and how to respond properly to bear encounters. One way to minimize the number of conflicts is by using bear-resistant trash cans. On Sunday, we put both normal and bear-resistant trash cans to the ultimate test by giving them to our both the black and brown bears at the Zoo to show people how effective these resistant cans really are. 

I must admit, after much effort, Oreo, one of the brown bears, did eventually crack the plastic of the bear-resitant can. However, that is why they're bear-resistant and not bear-proof.  It's possible for bears to get into them, with a lot of effort, but most bears recognize the amount of effort they have to put into getting it open and would rather not waste the time and energy.

Bears are fascinating and beautiful animals, but whether you live in Alaska or Ontario, it's important we keep them wild.  Remember that "a fed bear is a dead bear".

Information provided by Anchorage Bear Committee.

Are you bear aware?

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