Organised bear tours with an expert wildlife company are an excellent way to observe these magnificent animals in a safe and instructive manner. If you’re embarking on a tour with a qualified wildlife guide you might hear some unfamiliar terms, so before setting off, make sure to brush up on your bear vocabulary.
Adaptation – Adaptation is a biological process in which a species gradually becomes better suited to its environment. Like most plants and animals, bears have adapted to their individual environments, and have specialised features that help them make the best of their surroundings. The Polar Bear, for example, has evolved over thousands of years to adapt to its frozen surroundings with wide paws, thick blubber, and white fur.
Habitat – During bear tours, you are treading in the bear’s habitat, its natural ecological and environmental home. For example, deciduous and coniferous forests are the habitat of the Black Bear, and the edges of the Arctic ice pack are the habitat of Polar Bears.
Hide – On most bear tours, you will observe the animals from a hide (sometimes called a blind in North America). A hide is a shelter used to observe wildlife at close range. It is typically camouflaged so as to blend into the observed animal’s environment. A hide is somewhat reminiscent of a garden shed – normally wooden, with small openings or shutters built into the side to enable observation. Some hides, especially ones built for bird watching, are quite simple – perhaps only a wooden screen. Bear hides are much sturdier, with some even having toilets and beds inside for overnight stays.
Naturalist – Most bear tours will be led by a qualified naturalist, an expert in natural history fields such as zoology or botany. A naturalist will have spent many years studying plants and animals in the wild.
Range – A range is the geographic area normally inhabited by a species. For example, a Grizzly Bear’s range includes Alaska, south-western Canada, and parts of the north-western United States. A bear’s home range, on the other hand, is simply the area in which an individual animal lives, hunts, and mates during its life. The size of an animal’s home range is influenced by available food, mates, the time of year, and the age and size of the animal.
Subspecies – You might be overwhelmed by the huge and diverse bear family, but remember there are only eight species of bear: the Black Bear, the Brown Bear, the Polar Bear, the Asian Black Bear, the Sloth Bear, the Sun Bear, and the Giant Panda. All other bears, like the Grizzly Bear or Spirit Bear, are subspecies of an already extant species.
Territory – At times, some bears may show aggression to defend their territory, an area of its habitat over which it claims dominance. Territory may be defended for courtship and feeding rights, or, in the case of females, for breeding.
On bear tours, as with any wildlife tour, it’s helpful to have a little knowledge ahead of time. With the right facts and phrases, you can get a richer, more informative experience from observing these amazing animals.