is the result both of the size of the park’s grizzly
population, and of the actual location of the park.
Its 21,000 square km provide many corridors connecting
bear populations from the Alaskan Panhandle, in the
west, to the shores of Kluane Lake, on the northern
boundary of the park. Solitary animals, individual grizzlies
have an extensive home range (up to 1800 square km),
going far afield to find food and mates across the region’s
rugged mountainous terrain. (It’s been recorded
that some male grizzlies travel up to 250 km, as
the crow flies, every year.)
Grizzly bears are also a population that is increasingly
facing an encroaching human presence into their natural
habitat. Unlike other bears found in Canada, grizzlies
require relatively undisturbed wilderness to call home.
As a result, they have fared much worse than other species
of bears, with the grizzly’s North American range
now half of what it once was.
the movement and health of grizzly bear populations,
wardens are able to better understand these giants and
how their continuing survival can be ensured.
The tracking of the grizzlies begins in the air, when
Kluane Park staff head out in helicopters to spot the
animals. Once they have seen a bear, the wardens, biologists,
and others in the aircraft quickly estimate its weight
in order to prepare the right amount of tranquillizer
to sedate the animal (an adult male grizzly can weigh
up to 400 kg, females half that). The medication is
inserted into a dart, which is shot at the animal from
the helicopter hovering above it. When the bear is fully
sedated, the helicopter can land safely, and the data
collection and fitting of tracking devices begin.
Park staff record basic information such as where the
bear was spotted and tranquillized, how long it took
to go down, how long it was handled – up to 30
– and how long it took to revive. Once the dart
is removed, various measurements are taken – the
dimensions of the animal’s skull, the circumference
of its neck, its shoulder height, and its length from
nose to tail (when standing, an average full-grown male
grizzly is about 2 m tall; some are even taller). In
the course of their examination, the bear’s mouth
is pried open to check its sharp, bone-crunching teeth.
Often a vestigial molar tooth is pulled to estimate
the bear’s age, and samples are taken of the grizzly’s
hair and blood for recording DNA data.
Before the grizzly revives, park staff fit tracking
devices onto the animal. There are three of these: an
identifying ear tag and lip tattoo, and a radio collar.
The collar contains either a small VHF (Very High Frequency)
transmitter, which allows for tracking by fixed-winged
aircraft; or a GPS (Geographic Positioning System) receiver
and computer. The GPS device is a more