In the Field

Bear Lifespan and What Causes the Death of a Bear?

Bear Lifespan and What Causes the Death of a Bear?

Two of the most common questions that people have about bears, is how long bears can live, and what’s the leading cause of death for bears in the wild. While there are seven species of bears throughout the world, in this blog article we’ll be looking at the bears of North America, which include the black bear, the coastal brown bear, of which the grizzly bear and Kodiak bears are subspecies of, and the polar bear.

In captivity, such as zoos and closely managed wildlife conservation facilities, bears can live a long time, all the way up into their 40’s. In such settings, bears have all their needs met, such as food and shelter, and any medical issues they have can often be addressed. While living in captivity, bears live a rather routine but comfortable life. In the wild, however, bears face many challenges and their survival can be a tremendous struggle.

In the wild, most species of bears in North America have a lifespan of around 20 to 30 years, though many die during or before their early 20’s. As always, there are some notable exceptions though. The record for the oldest known wild black bear is 39 years, and the oldest Kodiak bear reached the ripe old age of 34.

Most Common Natural Causes of Death for Bears

For bears living in the wild, they can die from a variety of both natural and unnatural causes. Some of the most common natural forms of death that bears experiences is dying as a result of their dens being flooded and other natural disasters, starvation, infections, and injuries, dying from wounds inflicted during fights with other bears, and also dying as a result of predation, such as male bears killing and eating cubs, and black bears being killed and eaten by grizzly bears.

An interesting study from several years ago stated that many of the things that ultimately lead to a bear’s death in the wild start with tooth decay. When a bear gets a bad cavity, it can often become a source of infection and great pain. That one bad tooth can start a chain reaction of negative consequences, such as a bear not being able to eat as much as it needs to survive or not being able to consume it’s normal food sources, which then results in the bear getting progressively weaker, which results in less fat reserves and less energy to search for alternative food sources, as well as resulting in less strength to defend itself from other bears. So let that be a lesson to take good care of your teeth!

bear cavities and tooth decay
Cavities and tooth decay can end up being a leading cause of death for bears in the wild.

 

Most Common Unnatural Causes of Death for Bears

There are many things that can be classified as unnatural causes of death for a bear. One of the greatest forms of demise for all species of wildlife, all over the world, including bears, is that of habitat destruction. As more and more wild, natural expanses of land are covered in concrete and turned into urbanized, industrialized areas, wild animals are forced into relatively small, confined areas of natural habitat. The greatly limited food sources of those confined areas get quickly depleted, resulting in disease and starvation for many different species of animals that live in such small areas. A direct result of habitat destruction is also the increasing phenomenon of bears and other wild animals moving into city and suburban areas and seeking out human food sources, such as gardens, trash, pet food, and whatever else they can get their paws on…which often has tragic results for both people and bears.

Bear Lifespan and What Causes the Death of a Bear?
An urban grizzly bear getting into trouble!

Another major cause of unnatural death for bears is that of being killed by humans for a number of reasons. While legal bear hunting is greatly regulated and is ultimately used as a conservation tool to ensure a healthy, sustainable population of bears, many bears are also killed illegally by poachers, with their organs being sold on the black market as supposed remedies for a variety of health issues. Many other bears are killed each year in defense of life and property. While killing a bear that’s a serious, imminent threat to one’s personal safety is a legal and justifiable act, it’s also something that unfortunately is taken advantage of, as many bears are simply killed out of an unnational fear…or “bearanoia”…mostly due to lack of proper education about bears and decades of fear-inducing, sensationalized movies, TV shows, books, and news stories.

So that’s a quick overview of how long the bears of North America can live and what the most common forms of death are for them. To watch the video version of this blog article, click here.

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