King of the tundra
Barrenland grizzly -- six months on, six months off

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 08/00) - You think you like eating caribou? The all-time caribou glutton is the majestic Barrenland grizzly.

One of the adult male bears observed during a recently completed four-year study consumed a cow or bull every three days for a period of three weeks. During periods when it was too stuffed to pull down an adult caribou, it ate a calf a day.

There's not much for Barrenland grizzlies to fear other than hunters and other grizzlies.

Large males weigh about the same as a light pick-up truck -- just over a quarter ton. Females are much smaller, weighing up to 135 kilograms.

The $1 million four-year study included the capture, tagging and collaring of 152 bears in the area of north of Contwoyto Lake, from Bathurst Inlet to Kugluktuk. Funding for the study came from the West Kitikmeot Slave Study, a partnership of private industry and the federal and territorial governments.

It may not help a person who encounters a grizzly out on the tundra avoid a change of underwear, but biologist Robert Mulders noted the bears do not rely strictly on meat.

"In August, the berry crops are fairly ripe, and bears typically shift into crowberries, blueberries and arctic ground squirrels," said Mulders. "Then in late September they'll knock down a few caribou just before they hibernate."

The majority of bears head into their dens for winter in the last week of October. They emerge again six months later, usually in the last week of April or first week in May.

The study was started by Re-sources, Wildlife and Economic Develop-ment biologist Ray Case, but was a team effort that included associates Phil McLaughlin, Rob Gau, Mulders and Dean Cluff.

Bears were captured using tranquillizer darts and, during one season, net guns fired from helicopters.

The study was part of what biologists hope will be a larger study. Phase one dealt with diet, denning habits, and defining the range and movements of the Coronation Gulf (also known as the Kugluktuk) population of grizzlies.

The second phase, which has not begun, will focus on getting an estimate of the number of grizzlies in the area.

"Once you know how many bears there are and how productive they are, then you can make an estimate of what you could safely harvest -- what you can harvest without harming the population. That's the next step."

The two communities in the study area, Kugluktuk and Bathurst Inlet, have a total quota of 10 bears a season. The hunters and trappers organization in each community determines how much of the quota will be used by sport hunters. An average of two tags from each community are assigned to sport hunting each year.