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Bears And Play

by Ranger Jeanette Meleen of Katmai National Park

In the fall, when bears’ bellies are full of fish, they often spend time playing. Unlike July bears that seem to spend every moment looking for that next fish to eat, September bears, after gorging on salmon all summer long, have full stomachs and are ready for more leisure activities like napping and playing.

Play is a common activity in any animal. Author Enos Mills wrote, “All alert animals freshen themselves with play.” Bears are no exception. Oftentimes cubs are seen playing with their litter-mates. This play usually consists of chasing each other and wrestling with one another. A mother brown bear with a single offspring will often spend much time playing with it. Young bears can keep amused for half an hour just playing with a stick in the river. Bear biologists who have observed grizzlies and brown bears say that in winter, some bears will go out of their way to climb a steep, snowy hill for the sole purpose of coasting down the slope on their bellies for fun! At Brooks Camp, we have what rangers call the trampoline tree, which broke a long time ago. Can you guess what bears liked to do on that tree? That’s right!  Jump and bounce! This summer, Bear 409, or “Beadnose,” showed up on the Brooks River with three spring cubs. One day she climbed out onto a low branch overhanging the river and bounced on it for fun while her cubs watched. Her cubs are probably going to be the next generation of trampoline tree bears.

Play is not for young bears and mothers with cubs only. Even older bears are often seen playing with other full grown bears in the fall. One of our bears, Bear 489, or “Ted,” who is an older adult male was seen playing with another adult male one September morning in 2010. No matter what age, play is an important part of a brown bear’s life. As Enos Mills wrote, “Play is rest and relaxation; it gives power and proficiency; it develops the individual; and it is necessary for an efficient life.”

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