Black Bear - Ursus americanus

Brief Natural History

Today, black bears are generally limited to forested areas of North America but historically were found throughout a wide range of the United States and Canada. Although fragmented, their populations spread wide ranging from the western coasts of Alaska to northern Georgia. They prefer densely covered areas but will relocate to clearings in search of food. These large mammals are omnivorous, feeding on a wide range of food items of both plant and animal matter. Bears are opportunistic feeders and take advantage of any available food items, which can sometimes lead to conflict with their human cohabitants; bears have been known to rummage through trash and eat from bird feeders when easily available. The only potential predators that bears have to worry about are wolves during periods of hibernation and humans who hunt bears for sport, fur, and meat. People may also contribute to black bear deaths when attempting to resolve perceived dangers posed in the event that bears get too comfortable around human developments.

Where do Black Bears that need rescue come from? 

Private owners, closing roadside zoos, orphaned cubs unable to be rehabilitated, and ‘nuisance’ bears (bears that keep returning to highly developed areas) are all possible sources of bears in need. Although there are laws prohibiting the ownership of exotics in many states, every state’s laws are different, and even laws do not prevent some people from attempting to keep these animals.

Conservation Status

The black bear is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a species of least concern. At the moment, their populations are more abundant than all other bear species worldwide with about 20,000 inhabiting Minnesota alone. There is not a major effort to breed these species in captivity, thus many zoos housing black bears have acquired them as orphans that were unable to be rehabilitated.

Exhibition/Captive Laws

Bears are a regulated species in Minnesota. It is illegal for any person to own a bear in the state of Minnesota, unless grandfathered in as of January 1, 2005. Minnesota also prohibits the sale of bear gallbladders.

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the only Federal law that regulates the treatment of animals used commercially and for research. The law states that it is illegal to transport, purchase, sell, house, care for, or handle warm-blooded wild native and exotic species (excepting birds and certain rats and mice) without the proper permit/license from the USDA. Laws applicable to the private ownership of animals vary by state.

Fun Facts

Bears go into a state of dormancy called torpor through the winter for about 6-7 months. They live off of their body fat, which they work very hard to build up by eating throughout the fall. During this time, bears do not need to eat, drink, or even relieve themselves. It is considered dormancy and not hibernation, because by keeping their body temperature high, bears are able to stay alert and wake up if disturbed.

Black bears aren’t always black - they can be brown and in some cases even white! These white black bears, known as the Spirit Bear, have brown noses, brown eyes, and cream-colored fur but are not albino; this white coloration is due to a recessive pigment gene in select populations.


  • Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, 2002. United States Department of Agriculture. Web. 7 July 2016.
  • Black Bear. Minnesota DNR, n.d. Web. 25 June 2016.
  • Graphic Distribution of American Black Bears in North America." BioOne. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct. 2015.
  • Icon for an Endangered Ecosystem. National Wildlife Federation. N.p., 15 Jan. 2010. Web. Oct. 2015.
  • "2015 Minnesota Statutes." 346.155 -. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 June 2016.