The grizzly bears are Canada's largest carnivores. They
are called grizzly bears because of the appearance of
their fur. Their fur is tipped with white or silver
otherwise described as 'grizzled'. The grizzly coat
ranges from honey to various shades of brown to almost
black. Smaller than the polar bears but bigger than the
black bears, the grizzly bears can grow to as large as
2.6 meters in length and adults weigh about 410 kg. The
size varies according to the food availability in their
The grizzly bears were once found across North America
from South Alaska to Mexico. The Mexican grizzlies are
considered extinct and the United States population has
dropped from over 100,000 in the mid 1800s to between
700-900 today. Canada represents the last country in
which the grizzly bears survive in any significant
numbers. However, their official status is considered 'vulnerable'.
Grizzly bears need a huge range for their survival.
Females require less space and several female bears may
inhabit one male's territory. These bears inhabit a
variety of landscapes, such as mountainous areas, the
salmon estuaries of coastal British Columbia and the
treeless tundra of the Northwest Territories. Their diet
includes both small animals and plants. They eat fish,
berries, bulbs, shoots, nuts, grass, fruits, flowers,
bees, beavers, squirrels, mountain sheep and carcasses
of dead animals.
During winter, grizzly bears can hibernate for up to six
months because of the limited supply of food. Prior to
hibernating, grizzlies eat voraciously to
build up their
reserves of body fat. They hibernate in a spacious den
with a floor lined with branches, leaves and grass.
Sometimes, they store up their food in shallow holes for
future consumption. Coastal grizzlies feast on salmon
during the annual salmon run.
The main threats to the grizzly bears are logging and
the loss of their habitats. These predators require
large tracts of pristine wilderness for their survival.
Even in British Columbia with its rugged mountain ranges
and valleys, the number of grizzly bears declined due to
habitat loss. Conflicts with humans in agricultural
areas sometimes lead to the killing of 'problem'
grizzlies. Improper disposal of food can also create
problems as the bears are drawn to this convenient
supply of food. Many bears are killed by humans in acts
of 'self-defense' each year, when often
could have prevented a dangerous encounter.
Legal hunting while carefully monitored, may be removing
more grizzlies than can be replaced. Grizzlies are the
slowest reproducing large carnivores in North America.
Females breed only once every two years. Litters are
usually one or two cubs although as many as four can be
produced. Conservation organizations and wildlife
managers suggest that no more than three percent of
grizzlies should be hunted. However, the present hunting
rates exceed four percent in some areas.
Development pressures also threaten the grizzlies.
Developments such as hydroelectric projects, ski
resorts, and logging can cause soil erosion which silts
the rivers from which these bears fish. Roads also
attract grizzlies since berries grow in abundance in
cleared areas. The result is more vehicle-killed bears.
To protect these endangered animals, wildlife
conservation organizations have sought to protect their
natural habitats by making them protected areas. The
most recent achievement has been the formation of
several new protected areas which are home to grizzly
bears and other large carnivores such as wolverines and
cougars. Despite strong development pressure, the Wind
valley, just east of Banff National Park has been set
aside as a protected habitat.