The bear cub is everybody's baby

Fat and furry, he’s a playful mischief pampered by tourists, coddled by hunters and lionized in the zoo. But he’s a mamma's boy . . . and mamma won’t let you forget it

Howard O’Hagan July 21 1956

The bear cub is everybody's baby

Fat and furry, he’s a playful mischief pampered by tourists, coddled by hunters and lionized in the zoo. But he’s a mamma's boy . . . and mamma won’t let you forget it

Howard O’Hagan July 21 1956

The bear cub is everybody's baby

Fat and furry, he’s a playful mischief pampered by tourists, coddled by hunters and lionized in the zoo. But he’s a mamma's boy . . . and mamma won’t let you forget it

Howard O’Hagan

Of all native North American animals, none has such a secure place in the affections of man as the bear cub. This is doubtless because man sees something of himself in this small, black-coated denizen of the forest.

Smaller than a wire-haired terrier when he follows his mother from her den in the early spring, he leaves with plantigrade hind

foot a track in the mud the size and shape of that of a barefoot child. He rears up on his haunches, often showing a white star on his chest, and regards in wonder, with quizzical, red-rimmed eyes, the world about him. He tussles anti boxes with his brothers, ol which he may have as many as three. If there is mischief to be had. he will find it. He may wander into a fisherman's camp and become entangled in mosquito netting or wedge his nose into a jam tin. His mother will quickly come to chastise him. ripping him loose from the netting or knocking the jam tin from his nose with a blow of her forepaw.

In the zoo. the cage with the season's first bear cubs will have the largest crowd of people around it. Recently the newspapers carried a photograph of a bear mother in Washington. D.C.. proudly leading her three cubs out into the spring sunshine. Two were close behind her. It was the third cub who made the caption below the photograph. He had shyly turned his back on the camera, stood up against the stone wall of the cage and put his paws over his eyes.

Man has learned to look with favor on the bear cub from his childhood when, until he was five or six. he took a "teddy bear" to bed with him. These furry padded objects, with their tufts of ears and blackbutton eyes, were named after President I heodore Roosevelt in humorous allusion, it is said, to Roosevelt's passion for biggame hunting. Some are modeled after the Australian native bear, the koala, some after the North American bear cub, and over the

years they have probably outsold all other toy animals combined.

The affinity between man and bears has its roots deep in the cultural past. The hairy Ainu of Japan's northern island worship in the bear the spirit of their ancestors. The Salish tribe of British Columbia and Washington State once looked upon the bear as a sacred animal. Before killing him. the hunter addressed him humbly for permission and afterward hung his head in a treetop so that he might watch over his slayer.

However, two factors most firmly cement the bond between man and bear. One is that the bear stands up on his back legs and has become in legend "the beast that walks like man"; in fact, he doesn't walk this way. but the legend persists. The other is the animal's propensity for involving himself in almost-human predicaments.

This latter trait is particularly emphasized in the life history of the cub whose aptness for the inexpedient, or even the inextricable. would try the patience and wit of a human parent. A case in point is the experience of Continued on page 34 "Cactus" Mans who runs a trapline on the Klihini River, up in the Atlin country where British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska come together.


In November three years ago lie was fixing a marten "set" under a balsam

tree, driving the stakes leading to the trap with the head of his hatchet. Behind the tree rose a sheer rock wall. His packsack and rille were about fifty feet


Suddenly Cactus was aware he was

not alone. Looking over his shoulder he saw a big black she-bear, standing between him and his rille. He stood up slowly. The bear growled. Cactus began to circle to the left, to get to his rille. She moved to intercept him. He moved to the right. Again she blocked him. He couldn't retreat because of the wall of rock behind him. For twenty minutes the man and the bear faced each other.

I hen to his right Cactus heard a whimper. Through the swirling snow he could see a bear cub dangling in mid-air. its

hind foot caught in an upended tree. It almost seemed as though the she-bear had manoeuvred him toward the cub. but Cactus was reluctant to take another step closer to it lest four hundred pounds of outraged motherhood should come charging at him. On the other hand, he couldn't stand indefinitely where he was.

Holding his breath. Cactus moved toward the cub. The she-bear showed her teeth but did not growl or attempt to interfere. With his hatchet he cut the cub free. I he she-bear growled and leaped forward, then stopped as the cub crawled toward her. She sat up on her haunches and took it in her arms. Cactus made for his rille. The bear didn't try to stop him.

"She had a fine coat, prime." Cactus says wistfully today. "1 could have shot her then, but it would have been like shooting a mother and her child."

His experience on the Klihini was not the first that Cactus had had with bear cubs. A few springs earlier he shot a bear because it had frightened his youngest daughter. It was only when he commenced to skin the carcass that he realized that he had killed a she-bear and that she had cubs. He followed her trail back to her den under a log. There he found the two cubs. He brought them home where his three young daughters raised them on a bottle.

They slept behind the stove. That autumn, coming home late one frosty night. Cactus found the stove out and the cubs not in their box. He entered the bedroom where two of his daughters shared a double bed. There, sleeping peacefully between the girls, their black heads on the pillow, were the two cubs. They had been cold behind the unlit stove and wanted warmth. By the next spring they were too big to have around the house. Cactus sold them to a passing circus.

liven one bear cub. much less two. may become a trial as a pet. Just before the last war. the late Alex Skelton, then a government economist at Ottawa, was traveling through the Alberta foothills. He saw a captive bear cub. was attracted by its winning ways, and shipped it back to his home in Rockcliffe. the Ottawa suburb. However. Skelton for got that a cub does not remain a cub.

Skelton's cub grew and grew until one night it snapped its chain and terrorized Rockcl ¡lie's socialite residents Quickly they had a bylaw passed statine that only dogs, cats and caged birds could be kept as pets within the district Sorrowfully. Skelton put his bear in a crate and sent him back to be turned loose in his western hills, there to try to pick up the threads of his natural wild life and. eventually, to find a mate

Skelton's bear, like all black bears would seek out its mate in June or early July, the gestation period being Iron six to seven months. In the late fall when food becomes scarce the female selects her den under a log. a ledge ol rock or beneath the roots of a windtoppled tree where the snow will lie deep. There in January or early February she gives birth to one or two cubs, or. more rarely, three or four.

Each cub at birth weighs about a

pound. A full-grown black bear weighs from three to four hundred poundv At birth he is the smallest in proportion to his adult weight of all mammals excepting the marsupials. The young

moose, and the young of most other

ruminants, is able to stand up and walk minutes after being born. In a year or less he has left his mother and is on his own. The bear cub. on the other hand, born so small, requires a longer period of care and tutelage. The female bear breeds only in alternate years because she has her young with her during two winters and two springs.

The cubs are born blind, and with a coat of fine black hair. Their eyes open after forty days. When the snow begins to melt in early April, and it is necessary to leave the den. they are able to follow their mother and. though still sucklings, to feed from the grass and roots and inner bark to which she leads them. One of the favored roots is a wild-growing parsnip, so astringent that it will pucker up the human gullet almost to the point of suffocation.

The cubs at this stage of their career, with bright, black buttons of eyes and small tufted ears, are the spirit of mischief. and it requires all the mother’s attention and patience to keep them in line. At the first sign of danger, she will send them up a tree.

As spring passes into their first summer. the cubs learn from their mother the delights of other food—huckleberries and blueberries and various other sorts. She Hips an old log over with her paw and the cubs lap up the acid-tasting ants with their tongues, or the she-bear knocks down a beehive and. impervious to stings through their thick coats, they greedily guzzle the honey. Still later in the sea>on mice, upon which they quickly pounce, will become a staple of their diet.

By now. in early November, they have stored up sufficient fat for their winter sleep. Mother and cubs retire to their den. but not to the one where they were born. The mother chooses a new location and perhaps tears down a few branches of spruce or balsam to scatter on the floor beneath the upturned root or rocky overhang.

Mow to catch a cub

At their second emergence into spring, the cubs arc nearly half-grown. For several weeks they follow after their mother but, more and more, as the June mating season nears, she turns to growl and cuff them and chase them away. After leaving their mother, the cubs may stay together for a while, but when winter comes each will go alone to his cien. Black bears, unless around the unnatural feeding ground of a garbage dump, are not gregarious.

Nearly every human who takes it on himself to interfere with the ways and life cycle of bears lives to regret it. One June, accompanied by Roy and Frank Hargreaves. I went on a grizzly hunt up the valley of the Swiftcurrent, which falls into the Fraser below Mount Robson. B.C. The first evening out we heard a scrabbling sound as of a fairly heavy body climbing up a tree. We went to investigate. One of the spruce trees was trembling and there, forty feet from the ground, were two black bear cubs. Their mother had heard us, or winded us. and had sent them up among the

branches for protection.

Roy wanted those cubs. They would be an attraction for summer tourists who stopped at his place at Mount Robson. He stacked his rifle and climbed the tree. His idea was to cut the top

off with his knife. I would grab the

cubs as they hit the ground.

A twig snapped in the forest behind me. The she-bear was there. She would attack. I was sure, if she thought her cubs were in danger. I called up to Roy to hurry.

The crest of the tree tilted and broke. One of the cubs let go. hit the ground and actually bounced. The other fell

underneath the branch to which he was holding, and lay stunned on the ground.

We brought the cubs back to camp, wrapped in our woolen shirts. They weighed not more than twelve pounds each. “B-a-a-a, b-a-a-a,” they cried, like sheep, for their mother. She did not respond.

Two years later, when I was writing tourist publicity in New York City for the Canadian National Railways, I learned that the cubs, soon after their capture, had gone to work for the railroad. I used their picture with stories sent out to newspapers and magazines. It showed them with chained collars, scrambling to the top of the signpost by the platform of Mount Robson station. Passenger trains stopped there twice a day. The thundering hissing locomotives passed within a few feet of where the cubs were chained. It is significant that, instead of running away as far as the length of chain would permit them, the cubs, each time a locomotive approached, climbed the signpost, although this left them as close as before to the metallic monsters from which they wished to escape. They still hugged the futile lesson taught to them by their mother up the river.

Bears are sensitive to noise. Enos Mills, of Colorado, an outstanding authority on the species, reports that he has seen a grizzly bear stand up and put his paws over his ears during a thunderstorm. The bear cubs at Robson endured their ordeal throughout a summer. At its end, one of them had to be destroyed. The other broke loose and returned to the mountains. There I hope he found huckleberries pungent and sweet as huckleberries never were before.

The bears who came to dinner

By the time that I was using his picture and that of his deceased brother for publicity in New York, the escaped cub would be full-grown and possibly the sire of a family, unless, of course, he had been downed by a hunter’s bullet.

Though their hide brings little and the damage they do, even to sheep ranchers. is negligible, black bears are hunted relentlessly, sometimes for sport, sometimes because they’re regarded as a nuisance. As a matter of fact, shebears are often blamed for mischief frequently instigated by their cubs.

Pete Marsh, of Quebec's Gaspé coast, was a man peculiarly susceptible to their depredations. He lived by the Bonaventure River in a log cabin chained to a big pine tree so that it would not float away in the spring floods. For years he carried on a feud with bears because they broke into his cabin, spilled his molasses jug. upset his flour barrel and padded about the floor in the mixture. At times he saw the small track of a bear cub in the flour. He shot at least a dozen adult bears but, as he thought of them as almost human, he gave them all a decent burial. The carcasses lay under neat mounds behind his cabin, each one marked.

He never intentionally killed a mother with cubs. “Too much like a mother and child.” he once explained, echoing Cactus Marrs. When he did inadvertently shoot a mother, he befriended and fed the cub and kept it until it roamed oft in search of a mate.

Marsh wasn't alone in playing unwilling host to visiting bears. Frank Bone, a trapper who worked an area far to the north of the railroad town of Lucerne, B.C., was making his way along his trapline one fall. At sundown he bedded down in one of his cabins along the route. It was a new cabin and. not having yet put up a door, he had strung

a piece of canvas in its place. Close by his bunk was the table from which he ate.

About midnight, he was awakened by something running rapidly over his feet. He opened his eyes. He heard “a breathing” of a creature much bigger than that which had disturbed his sleep.

His matches were on the table and a candle close by. Lifting up on an elbow, he struck a match to light the candle.

Frank Bone did not light the candle —not until later and then he used another match. What he saw in the flare of the first match tightened his scalp. In the centre of the table was an open tin of syrup. Over the top of the tin, two myopic red eyes glared at him out of a coal-black face. A black bear sat there on her haunches, her two paws on the table top on each side of the syrup tin. I he vision endured until the match flame burned Bone's finger and went out.

Then on the floor he heard the scamper of the cub that had run over his blankets. The cub had come in first, under the canvas door. Its mother had followed and, once inside, smelled the syrup. Now the cub, alarmed by the match flame, ran out the door. The mother left the table and turned after it. On her way out she took a swipe at the stove, smashing it.

When she had gone, Bone lit the candle, patched up the stove, fixed the chimney and made a fire. He spent the rest of the night drinking tea. The next morning he made and hung a stout door on the cabin.

The black bear is less shy of cabins and humans than his big cousin, the grizzly, who has retreated into the most inaccessible reaches of the Rockies. The black bear has stayed lower down, often to haunt the edge of camp and town in his original habitat, minding his own business if undisturbed. Once in a while he may raid a camp larder or break into a cabin. It is a tithe exacted by one whose domain has been invaded.

During the summer months, along the roads in the western national parks, meetings between tourists and black bears with their cubs are an everyday occurrence. The wise tourist is wary: a shebear with young has a touchy temper and resents the teasing in which too many summer visitors are apt to indulge.

in Jasper Park the golf course is a favorite stamping ground of the black bear with cubs. Sometimes a cub will pick up the bouncing white ball and run with it. Years ago this prompted Herb Lash, then the publicity man at Jasper Park Lodge, to write to St. Andrews in Scotland to ask for a ruling. The answer came back that in such a case the golfer might drop a new ball.

One afternoon 1 saw a she-bear take the play away from her three cubs and herself make a run for the ball. The golfer got there first and stood his ground. The she-bear was undecided for a few moments, weaving her head from side to side. Then she apparently felt that she had made a fool of herself and suddenly turned and cuffed her three cubs and sent them up a jack pine.

The three cubs looked down, blinking at their mother, seeming to enquire, like the forest children they were, the cause of this unjust rebuke. As the mother walked away across the fairway, they quickly scrambled down the tree to follow after her. She was unreasonable and swung a heavy paw. but. after all. she was the only mother they had—their one protector in a demanding world whose alien ways they had still to learn. ★