Discover Alaska’s Kodiak Bears
A sub-species of the grizzly bears, Kodiak bears are native to the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago in Southern Alaska. These bears have proven themselves to be distinct from other species. Their habitat in Alaska comprises of mountains, and dense forests in the north and east while they occupy barren land in the south. The estimated number of Kodiak bears that currently exist is beyond 3500 and their population is steadily increasing. As a result, the density of these bears in the Kodiak region is such that you can expect to find nearly one Kodiak bear per square mile.
Kodiak bears caught our attention because they are not only specific to Alaska, but also very important to that region. Therefore, we decided to research into them and are sharing our findings with you below.
Habitat and Diet of Kodiak Bears
Interestingly, the population of Kodiak bears is generally not only healthy but also productive. These bears get to live in a comparatively pristine habitat with sufficient and comfortable supply of fish population to feed on. Therefore, due to these conditions, there has been a steady growth in the population of these bears over the past few years, and in some areas of the Kodiak region, these bears are slowly increasing in numbers. Also, boar is the name given to a male bear while the female bears are called sows. While the young Kodiak bears are referred to as cubs.
Majority of the nutrition attained from their food is used by them for weight gain. Kodiak bears are considered to be the world’s largest group of land carnivores. However, these bears are, in reality, omnivores. Even though they like to devour fish, salmon in particular, yet Kodiak bears like to eat grass, berries and other vegetation. Berries are eaten by them when they are ripe and have achieved their highest level of sugars.
It’s also worth noting that very few of these bears spend their energy on hunting down mammals to eat them. They enjoy the brain, flesh and eggs of the salmon while deer’s internal organs, elk and cattle are consumed first when they hunt them down. They also thrive on grass and forbs only during spring and early summer when they are growing fast.
Kodiak Bear Size and Weight
Kodiak bears have the distinction of being the largest bears in the world. Boars can be as tall as 10’ when they are on their hind legs, and 5’ when they stand on their four legs. Kodiak bears are also pretty heavy in terms of their size. An average Kodiak bear can weigh a maximum of 1,500 pounds with the female bears or sows being 20 percent smaller and 30 percent lighter than male bears.
Lifespan and Early Life
Usually, Kodiak bears live up to two to three decades. The oldest Kodiak bear known to mankind has been a 34 years old female bear while the age of the oldest male bear was recorded to be 27 years.
Female Kodiak bears or sows give birth to cubs in the dens between January and February. The cubs are very small and lightweight at the time of their birth as they barely weigh a pound, and their bodies are covered with very little hair. To be able to finally come out of the den between May and June, these cubs suckle for months after birth and finally, weigh around 15 to 20 pounds when they emerge from their dens. Another interesting thing about these bears is that they are observed adopting cubs from other litters. Even though, a typical litter comprises of 2 to 3 cubs, yet you will find a sow with 5 to 6 cubs in tow due to this adoption behavior.
For about 3 years, these cubs stick with their mothers before eventually moving out. It’s also surprising that more than 25 percent of these cubs die before moving out partly because they are eaten by the male Kodiak bears. Moreover, the cubs that move out are at a high risk of getting into danger or killed since they face the world all alone on their own for the first time. Therefore, the mortality rate between 3 to 5 years of age is high. Also, during this age these bears are also likely to create nuisance in the bear society and trouble people as well, hence, they are referred to as juvenile delinquents.
Adulthood, Mating, and Denning
Kodiak bears are able to reproduce at the age of 5 and they retain their ability to reproduce throughout their lifespan. The mean time gap between reproduction of litters is approximately 4 years. Mating season of Kodiak bears lies in the months of May and June. They tend to be monogamous serially which means they like to mate one partner at a time. Each monogamous relationship lasts for about a couple of days or weeks. The egg after fertilization gets implanted in the sow’s uterine during autumn while before that it stays in a suspended animation state. As a result, after mating in late October Kodiak bears begin going into their dens for winter hibernation as Alaska starts to get colder. While entering the dens, the pregnant sows go first followed by the boars.
After the gestation period is over and the cub is born, the boars start to come out of their dens in early April while, contrary to this, the sows remain with the newborns inside the den till late June at least. Some male Kodiak bears are also able to stay awake throughout Alaska’s winter season and completely let go of denning. This particular hibernating behavior of Kodiak bears has been extensively researched by NASA and other medical professionals. This denning physiology is very interesting to explore. Currently, it’s being researched how these bears are able to sleep through the eight months of winter without eating or drinking, and excreting, and still be able to retain most of their body mass and tone. A clear and precise understanding of their denning behavior can actually help astronauts, and bedridden patients.
Naturally, these bears are active during the day. However, if they face competition and struggle for survival, Kodiak bears tend to be more active at night as well. Since they usually exist in shape of larger groups at one feeding area, they have a complex language. In addition to that, Kodiak bear communities have developed social structures in order to communicate their feelings and steer clear of fights.
Hunting of Kodiak Bears
It’s true that the natives of Kodiak, the Alutiiqs, hunted down Kodiak bears for food, tools, and clothing. They used arrows and spears to carry out the tasks and needed to have an immense amount of courage for hunting the bears. Once the bear had been hunted down and killed, its head would be left behind in the fields out of the respect for the bear’s spirit. The commercial hunting of these bears was carried out throughout the 1800s. The price that was received for their hides was equal to that of a beaver or a river otter’s skin i.e. $10.
Many bears in the past have also been killed in order to protect the cattle. The cattle ranchers had been battling with Kodiak bears for years until all the efforts to control the bears ended in the 1960s. Before that Russian settlers would have huge aggressive dogs that would guard the cattle against Kodiak bears. By 1930s, a number of ways were being experimented by the biologists and the ranchers to prevent the cattle from being killed by the bears.
They went as far as shooting these bears from the airplanes and proposing a bear-free zone by erecting a 9-foot high fence to segregate the Kodiak Island. Such steps began reducing the population of Kodiak bears and so, concerns were raised by the sportsmen. This caused the Federal government to take action against bear control and protect them and their habitat from the ranchers. As a result of their action, stricter regulations were put in place and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge was formed in 1941.
Nowadays hunters can only kill the bears in accordance with the tight rules and regulations that are issued by the government which help in maintaining the population of Kodiak bears alongside preserving their habitat. Almost 180 Kodiak bears are hunted each year and approximately 5000 residents apply for bear hunting permits out of which only 496 get the chance to hunt. Foreign hunters need to hire a professional guide for about $10,000 to $21,000. The majority of the bears that are hunted are boars.
The bears tend to not harm people as such. Since 75 years, only one individual is reported to have been attacked and killed by a Kodiak bear while each year one person is injured by a bear.
The Alaska’s department of Fish and Game in collaboration with Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge manages Kodiak bears, and the research done about them. They also cooperatively work on protecting the habitat of these bears.
How are Kodiak Bears Different from the Grizzly bears?
Grizzly and Kodiak bears are the sub-species of the same species of the brown bear. Their main point of distinction is where they live and are found. Kodiak bears are only found in the Southwestern part of Alaska which is constituted by the islands of the Kodiak archipelago. On the contrary, the grizzly bears are more widespread in terms of their geographic distribution. They are found in a number of regions including the Canadian provinces of Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Alberta. Grizzly bears also live in a few American states such as Alaska, Idaho and Washington.
Apart from the geographic difference, they also differ in terms of their size. Kodiak bears are one of the largest bears and so, have frames and bone structures that are relatively larger. They are also heavier than grizzly bears who only weigh 1150 pounds.
Also, owing to the isolation Kodiak bears have faced since the beginning, the behavioral patterns between the two sub-species differ massively. Kodiak bears tend to have more complex language and social structure than the grizzly bears. Moreover, their home range is also large enough to sustain a higher density of population since the food sources are sufficient in their habitat.
Threats to Kodiak Bear
Even though we see that the population of Kodiak bears is gradually increasing, however, there are certain potential threats that currently prevail and may cause serious problems to their existence. One of the very first threats would be the advent of climate change. A constant threat of change in climatic conditions looms large over Alaska since in the previous years we have seen dramatic changes in the landscapes of the region owing to the steady rise in temperature each year. This may eventually lead to the habitat of the bears being irreversibly destroyed with several of them being starved to death in the process. Therefore, it becomes increasingly essential that the problem is recognized and steps are taken towards protecting it from getting worse.
Moreover, the energy development projects in the regions along with the construction of roads are other threats that may affect the population of Kodiak bears. While this urbanization is important, it’s also imperative that the bears are protected and their habitat is conserved.
Alaska is home to several wildlife species and each year tourists flock towards the region to explore them. Kodiak bears are also one such sub-species that resides in Alaska only. Thus, it not only makes them rare but also very interesting to explore and witness. These huge bears have been separated from the rest of the bear species and, therefore, are very different and unique.
Even though they have been previously mercilessly hunted down for the protection of cattle, however, now they are being protected and preserved by the authorities. These salmon-eating bears are also being researched upon since their hibernation and denning physiology has stunned the biologists. With a steady growth in their population, Kodiak bears are thriving in their habitat in Alaska. However, few things pose danger to their population.
Climate change and rapid urbanization may cause the destruction of their habitat which can result in them being endangered. While the bear hunting has been controlled by the authorities, it’s important that attention is also paid to the new emerging threats that are potentially more destructive.