Truth About Black Bears

Native people thought of them as healers. Environmentalists recognize them as an integral part of a healthy eco-system. Many in northern New Jersey see them as the majestic symbol of the New Jersey Highlands. We see them as a timid—and much maligned animal.

And as with many things, the more we understand, the less we fear. So here are some facts about black bears:

  • Black bears are flight animals. When given a choice between fighting or fleeing, they flee—typically up the nearest tree until danger passes.
  • Mother black bears send their cubs up trees as a way to protect them. Aggressive defense of cubs is a grizzly bear trait.
  • Bear cubs stay with their mother until they are two years old.
  • Black bears sometimes exhibit “bluff behavior.” When threatened, they may slap the ground or charge a short distance before fleeing. This is done in an attempt to frighten off another bear or human that has come too close. When frightened, bears may also snort or clack their mouths.
  • Black bears are among North America’s slowest reproducing land mammals.
  • New Jersey’s bear population was all but wiped out by hunting in the 1970’s. Their population has only recently recovered.

Can humans and black bears peacefully coexist?

“Yes,” says bear expert Lynn Rogers, Ph.D., of the North American Bear Center. Rogers is a wildlife biologist who has studied bears for 40 years. You may have seen him on the one-hour Animal Planet special, “The Man Who Walks with Bears.” He is recognized around the world as the leading expert in bear behavior.

Rogers maintains that one of the safest places to be is in the woods with black bears. Why? Because black bears are typically not aggressive toward humans. When threatened, their first instinct is to run away or climb a tree. The claws of black bears are strong for climbing trees, but not sharp for holding prey. They are primarily vegetarian. Unlike grizzly bears, mother black bears do not defend their cubs against people. Rogers and his colleagues have routinely tagged black bear cubs in the presence of their mothers.

According to Rogers, you are…

  • 45 times more likely to be killed by a dog
  • 247 times more likely to be killed by lightning
  • 120 times more likely to be killed by a bee
  • 60,000 times more likely to be murdered by another human being, than to be killed by a black bear.

So if you see a bear, enjoy the experience!