The Grizzly Bear is one of the most awe-inspiring animals found in the wilds of North America. While originally found across North America, grizzly bears can now be found mainly in Alaska, Western Canada, and Northwest USA – especially in B.C. and the Rocky Mountains.
The name Grizzly comes from the word “grizzled”, which means golden and grey tips of hair. This is referring to the colour of a grizzly’s fur, which is typically brown with white tips (although this can range from blond to black). The best way to distinguish a grizzly from another bear is the pronounced hump between their shoulders, a trait unique to the grizzly, and their short, rounded ears. One of the most impressive things about the grizzly is its’ size – most adult females weigh on average 130 – 180 kg, while most adult males weigh 180 – 360 kg. Despite their large size, grizzlies are very fast – they can run at 48 km/hour! Grizzly bears have one of the lowest birth rates of all land animals in North America, which is a main factor, along with habitat loss and hunting, of why they are considered an endangered species. On average, the lifespan is 22 years for a male grizzly and 26 years for a female, although most grizzlies will die much earlier from predation, hunting, or loss of habitat.
Grizzly bears, like other bears, hibernate during the cold winter months (about 5 – 7 months of the year). It is actually during hibernation that female grizzlies give birth to their cubs (often 2, but can vary between 1 and 4 cubs). To prepare, bears must consume an enormous amount of food, as males do not emerge from their sleep until mid-March, and females hibernate until April or May. Normally solitary animals, your best chance of spotting a grizzly in coastal areas such as B.C. or the Rockies is when they gather around streams, lakes, and rivers during the salmon season and enjoy a meal or two! While grizzly bears will normally avoid humans, they will defend themselves aggressively if threatened. My advice would be to be very aware of your surroundings and NEVER startle a grizzly – especially a mother and cub. The term “Mamma Bear” (referring to an overprotective mother) comes from a Mamma grizzly’s tendency to aggressively protect her cubs.
**Photos courtesy of Destination British Columbia and Travel Alberta