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Ask a Bear: Do Bears Eat Other Bears?

Our resident grizzly answers your burning questions in his weekly column.

Q. Dear Bear,

Do you ever eat other bears? So sorry for the morbid question, but I’m ever so curious.
— T.J., via email

A: Dear T.J.,

You just had to go there — the one thing that makes my fur stand on end (besides preventable bear-human conflicts). I’m going to need a large shot of honey to make it through this one…okay, ready.

I’ll be honest: Cannibalism and interspecies predation is a real — but rare — occurrence. I’ll spare leading you to the grisly source, but YouTube is rife with videos capturing both brown bears and polar bears in the middle of gobbling a member of their own species. Science has even attempted to study polar bear cannibalism, specifically to determine if incidences might be on the rise because of food shortages related to climate change. Grizzly cannibals tend to be males who kill cubs to make a female fertile again – and are loath to let the meat go to waste. (What can I say? We’re a lot less sentimental than you.)

Black bear males are guilty of cub cannibalism, too – in some cases, 
50 percent of cubs die from cannibalism. In most cases, cannibalism results between a powerful adult and a weaker cub or juvenile; I’m an opportunist, and adult predation is usually way too big of a risk. I know a straight-up challenge to the death against an adult of comparable size could end up with me down for the count.

Interspecies predation is even more infrequent. This is mostly because of each species’ habitat preferences. Polar bears overlap with grizzlies in only a few Arctic places, but food choices (seals vs. grasses, nuts, berries, carrion, etc.) mean we rarely come into contact with each other — and when we do, our power parity means we might just get lovey-dovey.

Black bears share plenty of range with brown bears, but our habitat preferences differ: Where both are present, brown bears prefer high meadows, alpine, and open areas; black bears tend to stick to thick forests, marshy wet areas, and underbrush-heavy cover. Black bears are smart enough to avoid more aggressive grizzlies, and where grizzlies and black bear habitat preferences overlap – like the temperate rainforests and salmon streams of British Columbia or Alaska – we make sure and give each other a wide berth. When we don’t, it can get ugly: Late last year, park rangers closed a trail near Banff National Park in Alberta after hikers encountered a well-known, 700-lb. grizzly eating a black bear carcass. According to rangers, that’s the fourth time that’s occurred.

So there you have it: It’s a bear-eat-bear world out there. Who’s hungry?

—Bear

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