Tag Archives: Ursus

Bear in The Cities

For the second time in six months, a wild black bear was found wandering around deep in the urban zone in Saint Paul. I’m not sure what happened to the last one, but this one was killed by Saint Paul police under advisement of the Department of Natural Resources. To give you an idea of the location, here’s a view of the cities with the bear marked:


This image represent an area that is approximately five miles across.

There are a lot of bears in Minnesota, but it is a little surprising to see one get this far into the city. It could have come down train tracks and/or via any of several lines of lakes and parks that grace the region, which in turn are a function of there being ancient river channels that are now filled with drift and kettle lakes. There is also plenty of parkland along the riverside.

Details here.

A Field Guide to ALL of the Carnivores! (Almost)

Why would you want a field guide to all of the carninvores? They live everywhere, so there is no reason to carry around a field identification guide with ALL of them unless you were going everywhere in the whole world on one trip!

Yet, there is such a field guide, Carnivores of the World (Princeton Field Guides), and the truth is, this is ONE OF THE COOLEST BOOKS I’VE EVER SEEN! All the carnivores (almost) in one book. Interestingly, it turns out to be possible. There are fewer than three hundred species of terrestrial carnivore in the whole world, and that is fittable in a single book.

That itself is an interesting fact, in proper context. Indeed, when I went through this book, spending a bit of time on each and every page, a number of interesting thoughts about carnivores came to mind….

Regarding taxonomy, diversity, and disparity (the former = number of species, the latter = how different they are), carnivores are fairly unique, but in a way that applies as well to primates. Looking only at the regular terrestrial carnivores first, they are all very similar in certain respects yet there is a fair amount of variation among them, including a huge range of body size from the smallest carnivore that could easily hang out in an open soda can to the largest being the northern Bears (either polar or brown, depending on how you measure a species “size”). There are almost 30 orders of Mammalia, and Carnivora is about the fifth most speciose. Yet, Carnivora has fewer than 300 species. Compared to some other animal Classes (Mammalia is a Class). the mammals, for all the interest we have in them, are fairly low density in respect to species (there are something like 10,000 Birds!), high in disparity (the “hooved animals” includes whales and bats fly like birds!) and are rather cryptic with respect to how visible they are on the landscape (compared, again, to birds, which are always rather in your face).

Carnivores, relative to some of the more common mammal Classes, are both ubiquitous and thinly distributed. As you track mammals across the landscape, you might find that certain mammals are highly concentrated here and there, almost absent in other places. The total biomass of bovids in northern climes varies dramatically as you go from herds of bison to forests with thinly distributed deer to tundra or mountain slopes where the highly specialized forms occur in small groups with big gaps between. But everywhere you go, you will be within the territory of a carnivore. In fact, as a rule, you’ll be within the territory of between two and four carnivores, as they tend to divide themselves up by size class, with the classes sometimes competing with each other. In one place there may be otters or minks (small) and coyotes (medium) and either a cougar or a wolf pack (large), or there may be lots of coyotes (large) and otherwise mainly stoats and the like (small). In much of Africa, there will be one large cat (lion) one small cat (golden, wild-house, or sand?) one hyena and two or more mongoose-getet-civet-like creatures that are different from each other in size covering the exact spot you are standing. You’re standing there looking at some bird, and off in the bush there are five carnivores looking at you. In the ancient middle east, there would be lion, leopard, a smaller cat, and an even smaller cat. And so on.

Don’t think about that too much … it is just a rule of thumb. The point is, most space is occupied by carnivores, yet at the same time they are way spread out because of their territorial habits which arose for a number of reasons including the fact that they eat other animals and thus are limited. And, this means that as they disperse during their own carnivoresque personal development cycle, they tend to disperse over very long distances, maybe not during all generations but certainly some. Therefore, some carnivore species have huge ranges, or if they have diversified a bit, some carnivore groups of species have huge ranges. And, for many types of carnivores, there are both tropical and template’s and in between forms. This is not typical of the other orders of mammals.

This is why we get interesting patterns such as the fact that the New World cougar and the Cheetah are close relatives, having differentiated in North America. The Cougar did not spread from North America probably (this is just an educated guess) because medium+ size cats were already everywhere, but the Cheetah was rather a novelty … a doggish cat that could run as fast as the fastest antelope or pronghorn … so it did spread. Subsequent events left the Cheetah only in Africa but it was once more widely dispersed (as a type of cat, not necessarily the same species).

The lion was probably the one mammal among all mammals, other than humans, that has the largest range of all mammals ever, having been spread across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa not too long ago. And so on and so forth.

The result of these patterns of adaptation, dispersal, and ecology is what you see in Carnivores of the World (Princeton Field Guides). When you look at the carnivores organized more or less by taxonomy and then pay attention to the geography, your mind will be blown and you will demand an explanation! How the hell did we get the same basic animal living in the woods of North America (wolverine) and the nearby prairies (badgers) as we have across Europe and Asia and Africa (the honey badger) with about dozen or so other versions all over the place? And you will see other patterns as well; As you thumb through the pages, you will repeatedly see size grading among the carnivores, but most of the size grading is localized. It isn’t like Asia has large otter-mink-stoat critters and Africa small ones .. everywhere gets a range from small to large. Also, as you thumb through the pages, every here and there you’ll see “Crab Eating X” where “X” is some kind of animal (dog, badger, cat, whatever). Either carnivores like them their crabs or carnivore namers are regularly surprised enough to see crab eating that they tend to name anything they see eating a crab after that behavior, even if some of them actually rarely do. (Had I named coyotes after my first extended wild encounters with them, they would be the “crab eating dog”!)

Hunter’s book does not cover the fish. Yes, folks, just as the “hooved animals” gave rise to several fish (whales) and other groups have given rise to fish (hippos, etc.) the carnivores has a fish branch as well (walrus, seals, sea lions). I think it would be cool if Carnivores of the World (Princeton Field Guides) included these critters as well. Including them would make important points about evolution. I respect the fact that this book is written by an expert on land carnivores, so having seals and such in there with the terrestrial forms may be inappropriate. But in a future edition of the book, I would love to see five pages dedicated to the Fish nee Carnivores, not all species but just a nod to the families of seals, walrus, and sea lions.

The other thing that is missing from this book that I would very much like to see and that I must insist (as if I could) be included in the next edition is range maps. I have ideas as to how to make them fit. It is important. (But see below)

Luke Hunter is an Australian who has done research in South Africa and elsewhere. He heads the Panthera Corporation and formerly headed Great Cats and the Wildlife CosnervationSociety.

The Panthera Foundation web site has lots of information about carnivores, and in particular, you can download the range maps that are missing from the book, here!

Bear Attacks

Animals eating1 people has always been an interest of mine, and bear attacks are among my favorite. As you know, I’ve got a few of my own stories, though I don ‘t know if I ever told this one. There were two of us canoe-camping in a state park in the Adirondacks. You had to park your car at a ranger station, sign in, get a canoe, and paddle across the lake to a distant spot. Turns out, I left the lights on in the car during that first part. This will become important in a moment.

So, I’m sitting there in front of a little camp fire cooking up some stew. To my right is a bag of food that I intend to hoist up on a high branch, because it is obvious that there has been a lot of recent bear activity. Suddenly, the person I was with, who was born and raised in New York City, pointed behind me and said “Look, a dog!”

So I turned around and saw a black bear about 20 feet away sitting there looking at the lake.

We both stood up to look at the bear. The bear moved behind a bush. We moved closer to the lake to get a better view. The bear moved behind another bush. We moved along the short five feet to get a closer look but the bear seemed to have disappeared.

She had fooled us into moving about 20 feet away from the bag of food. I heard a twig snap and turned just in time to see her running off with the bag into the forest!

And, just then a motor boat with a dog in front and a ranger in back came plowing into the shore. The ranger had … and I am not making this up … a Scotch on the rocks in one hand and a shot gun in the other. He scrambled out of the boat, having seen what just happened, and said “I’m going after her, stand aside!”

I said “I’ll be right behind you! By several feet!” and I followed him and his dog and his shotgun into the forest.

We found the spot the bear had eaten our food. In less than 90 seconds she took everything out of the bag and ate all the good stuff. M&Ms. Hot Chocolate. Granola. That sort of stuff. It was all opened and gone and chewed up and slimed on. And, around us for about 15 or 20 feet in every direction was litter. The remains of many other camper’s bags of food. This bear had a pattern.

“We are going to have to close this camp down,” the ranger said. “This is the last event like this we can allow here …. you’ll have to move to a new camp. Put your stuff in the canoe and I’ll show you where it is.”

I should explain that the reason the ranger came upon us when he did was to tell us that I had left the lights on in the car. The reason he had the dog and the shotgun with him is that he expected the bear to be around. This also explained the funny look he gave us when we signed up to camp in this spot!

So we put everything in the canoe, but without packing up…. we just pulled the stakes on the tent and dropped it in the canoe, and tossed our bags on it. Then we canoed back to the ranger station and I got the lights turned off in the car. Then we canoed towards the new spot, but about half way there a thunderstorm opened up on us (in the ADK’s you don’t always see them coming, as many of the lakes are in deep U-shaped glacial valleys surrounded by high mountains). So everything was soaked because it was not packed up properly.

So, we turned around and got in the car and drove to an Inn!

And at the Inn, we sat in the restaurant to dry off and get some food. And our seat was a two-person table next to a pillar. And on the pillar was a bulletin board. And on the bulletin board were clippings of every bear attack story the owners of the Inn could find. We read them all. I still remember most of them. So, in one day I got one story fer real and learned myself a bunch of others.

Which brings us to a more serious story than all of that. Many of you know that my sister, Elizabeth is a journalist who has worked the Northern Rockies and the Yellowstone area for many decades, and she’s got a story in her newspaper about a bear attack.

Bear attack survivor tells his story

ISLAND PARK, ID. — “Bear! Help!” That’s what Rich Paini, 40, remembers saying when a bear attacked him during an elk-hunting excursion in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest the morning of Saturday, Sept. 24.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Paini and his friend and hunting partner, Jon Stiehl, shared the story of the widely publicized attack while sitting at the dining room table in Paini’s cabin in the Last Chance area of Island Park. Their archery hunt began when they walked away from the cabin before sunrise and headed to the national forest. It ended at the cabin a few hours later with an Island Park Ambulance crew waiting to transport the injured Paini to a helicopter landing site and a flight to the Eastern Idaho Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

Paini described the experience as “surreal.” He said he and Stiehl, business partners at the TroutHunter Lodge in Last Chance, were heading back to Paini’s cabin through a lodgepole and aspen forest after not seeing or hearing any elk. They had seen a “remarkable” amount of wolf sign, and had just shared that they had not come across any bear sign, when they heard “an enormous commotion” in the trees and shrubs….

Read the rest here.

Which reminds me of several other stories involving bears and archery and trout. But for another time .

1That is a euphemistic for attacking, mauling, killing and, of course, consuming partly or in total.

Another bear maneno in Yellowstone

Park mangers say they euthanized “an aggressive, habituated, and human-food-conditioned black bear” Tuesday out of “concern for visitor safety.”

But it was also a result of stupid people making unnatural food available to the bear.

The adult female bear had been seen frequenting the Slough Creek area in the park’s north central area. The bear was 4 – 5 years old and weighed between 100 and 125 pounds. Some observers had mistaken her for a grizzly since it was brown in color.

In mid-July, the bear entered an occupied backcountry campsite in the Slough Creek drainage. Attempts to chase her away failed, and she ate the dinner the camper had prepared for himself.

The rest of the details are here.