October 09, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

Jeanie's story 


When well-loved local black bear Jeanie walked out of her den with three cubs last spring bruin-watchers heaved a collective gasp.

They all know if Jeanie has cubs she heads to the village in the fall and early winter in her mistaken belief that she must do this to fatten her offspring with garbage for hibernation.

So when she lost a cub in May there was a little less worry in the bear observation community, though a meeting was still planned to talk about how to manage Jeanie, who is tagged in both ears - a sure sign of a bear who has strayed out of the wild into human territory.

Then early in June she lost a second cub. While that meant even less chance of risky behaviour in the fall it was sadness not relief that dominated those who watch Jeanie - the only black bear to have her own Facebook group (www.bearsmart.com/Jeanie.html).

So in late August, when she lost her last remaining cub at seven months old, only sorrow was left.

This was the first time Jeanie has had three cubs since she started reproducing in 1997 and it's relatively rare for her species.

"I was quite taken aback when her final cub went... he was so large," said Whistler self-taught bear researcher Michael Allen, who has been documenting the lives of black bears for 24 years.

"He was almost 40 pounds and he was big and fast. One day he was there and the next day he wasn't there.

"I had just spent a few hours with them a few days before and it was mother and cub in the berry patch, and everything was fine, and then this male shows up and just starts harassing her."

It isn't clear what happened to the cubs - they are likely to have been victims of males who are intent on breeding with Jeanie, or were possibly lost to the aggressive behaviour of other females or even coyotes. But it is clear that once again the trials and tribulations of this iconic Whistler bear are providing the average resident and visitor a rare glimpse inside the life a black bear.

"It is tragic," said Sylvia Dolson of the Get Bear Smart Society, who manages Jeanie's Facebook page. Her organization works to bear-proof Whistler and educate the public on bear safety.

"It is heart-breaking. We thought we were in the clear for the last one."

And in another twist to the story the same male that harassed the bears in the berry patch, the young, aggressive suitor who may have killed Jeanie's last cub, may have tried to mate with her.

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