The Spine of the Continent: Protecting Grizzly Bears
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The famous maternal solicitude shown by the female for her cubs begins before they are even implanted; a mama grizzly can carry a fertilized egg in her womb for many months, ready at any moment to attach to the uterine wall and begin becoming a bear, which it does not do until conditions are right. How the bear knows that she has enough body fat to support a pregnancy through hibernation, or how she knows whether there is enough forage available to support her progeny, is a mystery to us. If conditions are right for pregnancy, a bear will wake up in January long enough to deliver her cubs. She’ll go back to sleep, periodically waking to minister to the cubs. For approximately three months, these little ones will not hibernate but live in a half-waking world with their slumbering dam. Talk about attachment theory. It’s no wonder the mother-offspring bond in bears is so ferocious; they are more or less unified in darkness until the group emerges in spring.
From the perspective of human limitations, these natural abilities of bears are death-defying and thus amply justify the frequent Indian association of grizzlies with immortality. Even on a smaller scale of causality, however, to let the grizzly go extinct is to eliminate a repository of information about survival before we have even begun to understand it.
Reprinted with permission from The Spine of the Continent: The Most Ambitious Wildlife Conservation Project Ever Undertaken by Mary Ellen Hannibal and published by Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, 2012.
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