Almost all of the “grizzly sightings,” in recent years have been proven to actually be black bear sightings.
The Grizzly is considered to be a subspecies of the Alaskan Brown Bear, and some authorities do not distinguish any difference between the two bears. There are estimates that over 50,000 Grizzly Bears inhabited the continent before Europeans arrived, and the Plains Indians told tales of marauding Grizzlies coming through the villages and taking men, women, or children as prey.
It is not surprising that this animal entered into the myths and legends of the Native Americans, and a necklace of the bear’s claws was thought to impart not only courage, but protection. There is a terrible majesty to the Grizzly Bear, but no one should ever forget that it is an intelligent, strong, and ruthless predator.
Grizzly Bears are considerably larger than Black Bears, and the boars can weigh up to 800 pounds or more (record boars have weighed 1,500 pounds), while sows are much smaller in size. The coat of a Grizzly is indeed grizzled, with silvery tips giving a distinctive look to the coat. The claws of the adult Grizzly Bear are 4 to 6 inches long and are used by the bear for digging or attacking prey or competitors.
When rearing up on the high legs, a large male can be 7 ½ feet tall. It is interesting to note that unlike most animals, all bears have feet much the same as humans, and referred to as plantigrade – the entire foot rests on the ground, from heel to toes. This does provide a more stable footing, and does not seem to hold the Grizzly Bear back as far as running goes, either, as this bear is capable of attaining 30 mph over a short distance.
One of the behavioral traits of the Grizzly Bear that most people find incomprehensible is that the male bears will try to kill any cubs they come across. There is actually a reason for this, and this behavior is seen in other species such as gorillas, lions, and unfortunately, humans.
When a young animal that is nursing is killed, such as when a boar Grizzly kills a baby bear, the mother will become fertile again.. This gives the boar a chance at impregnating the sow and is just a rather brutal way of assuring that one individual’s genes will be passed on. It is generally seen in species where the male either does not participate in raising the young, as is the case with bears, or where the dominant male of a group of females can be replaced through battle, as with lions. Seen in this light, the actions of the boar make sense, but this probably also helps to account for the legendary protectiveness of the female Grizzly Bear.
As the Grizzly Bear population has stabilized in the Lower 48 states and is already high in Canada and Alaska, those who will be using the wilderness for hiking or camping should always be aware of the possible danger these bears impose. Most Grizzlies want to be left alone and are content to simply melt away into the wilderness at the first smell of humans.
However, besides getting between a sow and her cubs, approaching a Grizzly Bear kill can be dangerous. After a Grizzly has killed, it will heap branches and other forest debris over the body. If you see this sign, leave the area immediately.
Those who will be in areas where Grizzly Bears are found should carry bear spray with them at all times. This is a non-lethal way to handle an attacking bear, and has been shown to be extremely effective.