North Georgia Wildlife Part 8 (Black Bears)
Black bears can generally be found in three regions in Georgia. These areas are the North Georgia mountains, along the Ocmulgee River drainage system in the central part of Georgia and in the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeast. Black bears however can range over larger areas in search of food and young male bears often will roam large areas until they are able to establish their own territory.
Bears typically live in forested areas and swamps especially those with mixed pine that offers them a plentiful supply of natural foods, trees, and thickets that they can escape to for security. Hollow trees are common den sites for Georgia bears. However, brush piles, rock crevices or other places that offer protection may be used.
The typical life span of a black bear is about 8-15 years. Adult bears can be up to 6 feet in length and about 3 feet high at the shoulder. Female adult bears can weigh up to 300 lbs and attain breeding status at about 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 years of age. Adult males can weigh over 500 lbs and may breed as early as 1 1/2 years of age. Bears have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell. They are excellent tree climbers, good swimmers and are able to run at speeds of up to 30 mph. The breeding season is in July and cubs are born in the den in late January or February. Bear cubs weigh about 8oz when they are born and are relatively undeveloped and entirely dependent on the mother. Cubs stay with their mother throughout the first year, den with her during the following winter and stay with her until she finally drives them away the following spring. Due to this extended care for her young, females only produce a litter every two years.
Bears are considered omnivorous meaning their diet consists of whatever is available at that time of year. Diets vary according to what part of the state the bear calls home as well. However, the majority of their diet consists of berries, fruits, acorns, grass, and animal matter including insects and mammals such as deer. When houses, camps or recreation areas are located within the range bears are naturally attracted to the smells associated with cooking and garbage disposal. Other non natural attractants include pet food, birdseed, suet, compost piles, gardens, beehives and cornfields. Bears can become attracted to human food when their natural diet sources are scarce. A bear typically will remain in an area where food can be found until that food supply is gone or until other measures are taken.
Game Management Offices receive numerous bear nuisance calls every year. Typically, the caller expects someone to capture and relocate the bear. This is usually not the best solution for residents or bears as other bears may move into the territory or the relocated bear who will try to find its way back will commonly be hit by a car. In addition, relocated bears typically will enter into territory conflicts with existing bears resulting injury or death of one or both bears.
For each nuisance situation it is evaluated why the bear is causing problems. Most problems can be resolved through simple actions such as taking down bird feeders, taking in pet food, or storing garbage in an area unavailable to bears like a garage. Removing or making attractants unavailable to bears is a critical step in resolving bear/human conflicts. It is equally important for people to be patient. It may take several days for the bear to learn that it is no longer going to be provided with a free meal. In most cases the bear will simply move on when the food source is no longer present. Installation of an electric fence may be necessary when bee hives and gardens are involved. When camping or hiking store your food items in a vehicle or hoist food packs into the air away from the trunks of trees. Capture and relocation of a bear is a last resort and only warranted if the bear persists in being a nuisance and presents a safety threat to residents or major property damage is likely. Be aware though that there have been no recorded bear attacks on humans in Georgia, and no fatalities.
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