While grizzly bears in Banff National Park typically have a vegetarian diet interspersed with the odd elk and moose dinner, last week, a 600 pound grizzly called bear 122 added a twist to its menu – black bear.
Parks officials discovered 122 killed a 100-pound black bear near Sundance Canyon last week, resulting in an area closure. When biologists investigated the site after the big grizzly had moved on, they found black bear remains.
It’s only the fourth documented occurrence of a grizzly eating a black bear in recent history, but the second black bear kill for 122 in the past year. Last September, the large male killed another black bear near Mount Norquay.
Parks biologist Steve Michel said it’s an interesting situation, and one that likely occurs more frequently than they realize. “It’s less unique than it sounds. This does go on more often than we’re aware of,” Michel said. “We can’t say with a degree of specificity how often it occurs.”
There are several factors that result in ‘interspecific predation’ Michel said. Grizzly bears are extremely opportunistic feeders and 122 and the black bear may have been competing for the same food source.
“We see this one day, and a week later he’s on an elk carcass,” Michel said.
Although black bears aren’t an easy meal, Michel thinks 122 would make short work of a black bear.
“In the case of these situations with this bear, he’s an extremely large grizzly, weighing between 500 and 600 pounds, versus a 100 pound black bear. It’s probably not a difficult meal. It’s not like an ungulate, which would be easy prey by comparison, so there is probably some competitive interactions beyond a predatory food situation,” Michel said.
Large male grizzly bears are known to prey upon cubs, and other species exhibit similar traits. Wolves often eat coyotes, for example.
“It’s an interesting situation. It’s unique in our knowledge of it.”
All of Parks Canada’s knowledge about grizzly/black bear attacks comes from radio collar data. Bear 122 has a collar, but it stopped working. Michel said if the right opportunity arises, they’ll re-collar him.
In other bear news, two black bear cubs were struck and killed on the highway in two separate incidents over the weekend in Banff National Park.
On Saturday (Aug. 17), a small cub was struck a kilometre and a half west of the Sunshine overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway. Parks officials have no idea how the cub got on the highway, and the mother wasn’t spotted in the area.
“Judging by the size of the cub, he could have squeezed through the fence,” said Banff National Park spokesman Mark Merchant. “It’s one of these unfortunate incidents where we may never know why he was on the highway.”
On Sunday, another black bear cub was struck on the Icefields Parkway, 7.5 kilomtres north of Saskatchewan Crossing. The bear was a year old, and was struck in the late afternoon on the highway.
Parks resource conservation officers said they saw a mother and cub in the area earlier, however, they can’t tell if the cub was the only one in the litter.
Jenny Klafki, spokesperson with the Kootenay, Lake Louise, Yoho Field Unit, said drivers have to be extra diligent at this time of year.
“We take the protection of wildlife seriously and we rely on the support of our visitors to be extra diligent at dawn and dusk. Bears at this time of year are moving around at low elevations, looking for food,” Klafki said.