The Grizzly Truth: Diseases of the Grizzly Bear

Along with the joy and fascination we gain by encountering nature’s most beautiful creatures comes the responsibility to learn more about their conservation and the challenges they face when it comes to survival. While many of the threats unfortunately come from humans, some, like diseases and parasites, are simply a part of the great circle of life.

For anyone with a particular interest in bear watching, embarking on a wildlife tour to encounter the magnificent Grizzly Bear in its natural habitat can be a truly life-changing experience. Like every animal on the planet, they face their own unique threats. Understanding what those are (and their ramifications) is part of getting to know this fearsome animal on a deeper level.

Get to Know the Grizzly

The Grizzly (a sub-species of the Brown Bear) is a solitary animal that is most often seen wandering alone in coastal regions or around lakes and rivers. They can be found in Canada (where bear watching tours are popular), North America and parts of Europe and Asia. Mammoth and imposing in size, their average height is around two metres and they can weigh up to 360 kilograms.

They’re omnivores, hunting large mammals like bison, deer and moose and supplementing their diet with plants. They have a naturally long lifespan (around 25 years) but their numbers are in sharp decline due mainly to loss of habitat and poaching.

Diseases and Other Threats

Even though it is fairly rare to contract an infectious disease in the wild, Grizzlies do face numerous threats. These include parasites, congenital issues and physical injuries.

Capture Myopathy: Also known as exertional myopathy, this condition can come about when the animal suffers trauma or stress from something like being snared in a trap for an extended period of time. Even if it doesn’t happen immediately, the myopathy can occur days or even weeks later, when the animal’s heart stops, due to its bloodstream being flooded with toxins from the shock.

Ageing Issues: Just like humans, Grizzlies display the effects of old age – if they survive that long. It is common for them to suffer from a disease called spondylosis, which involves a fusion of the spine, as well as various forms of arthritis. Severe tooth degeneration also occurs in older animals.

Parasites: External parasites can be a big problem and, as well as having to endure the discomfort of constant plagues of ticks and fleas, mites can cause serious mange. Roundworms, hookworms and forms of protozoa can cause trichinosis and toxoplasmosis.

Viral Diseases: Bears are also susceptible to a range of viral diseases transmitted from other animals. While these mainly affect captive animals they can also occur in the wild. These diseases include canine hepatitis, from coyotes or wolves, swine herpesvirus 1, contracted from pigs, and rabies, which can be transmitted if they sustain a bite from a rabid animal.

Encounter the Grizzly on a Bear Watching Holiday

For those who would like to experience bear watching in the Grizzly’s natural habitat of western Canada, understanding the threats this spectacular beast faces, both from humans and nature, makes the experience all the more inspirational.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bears. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led bear watching tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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Author: Desiree Michels