Meadow near the Champion Lodgepole Pine


Animals abound in our mountains and some, like the playful Squirrels, Chipmunks, Raccoons and Coyotes are a pretty common sight, however the Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Fox and Deer are rarely seen. These animals are secretive and don’t like the presence of humans. You could hike every day for years and not come across any of them, and then one day, spot one in an unexpected place.

BLACK BEAR - Ursus Americanus

Mama Bear with Cubs

Big Bear Lake and Big Bear were named after the huge Grizzly Bears that roamed the Valley in the 1800’s. The Serrano Indians lived in harmony with the mighty Grizzly and thought of these huge animals as grandfathers. Bear meat was never eaten, nor was bear fur ever worn. Sadly, by the turn of the century, the miners, loggers and cattle grazers had killed the last of the Grizzlies in the southern California Mountains. The only place you can see Grizzly Bears today is at the Moonridge Animal Park in Big Bear Lake. Years after the demise of the Grizzly, the smaller, less aggressive Black Bear was introduced into the San Bernardino Mountains.

Bears have been great favorites in zoos for hundreds of years, and it’s not hard to see why this is so. Their great strength is impressive, and the sheer size of some bears is enough to gain instant respect. Some captive bears are “hams” and like to put on a show for the human spectators.

Male bears are called boars, and females are called sows. Young bears, of course are called cubs. Sows are smaller and as a rule, and stay away from the larger males. Only during mating season do sows and boars spend any time together. The body of a bear may look lumpy and clumsy, but these animals are among the strongest and fastest on earth. These powerful creatures are peaceful by nature, and usually only fight when they have to. Black bears are small bears (200 to 400 lbs) and have long, straight noses and the largest ears of any bears, they come in all shades of brown as well as black.

Black BearBlack Bear.
Whenever they are in danger, black bears climb trees, they have rather short claws that are ideal for scrambling up a tree trunk. Black bears spend the snowy days of winter in a den; they may stay asleep without eating or drinking for as long as 5 – 6 months. During the coldest part of the winter, black bear babies are born in the den. Usually, two are born, but there can be from one to four cubs in a litter. The babies are very small, often weighing less than ½ pound at birth. Bears spend most of their time looking for food, which may consist of plants, twigs, buds, leaves, nuts, roots, fruit, berries, plant shoots, ants, honey, fish, insects, and grubs. They sometimes eat birds eggs, beehives and small mammals.


Remember, that while not aggressive, black bears will protect their food and young if they feel threatened, so if you do happen upon one, it is best to give them plenty of room and not create a situation where a bear might have to be unnecessarily killed. Keep one thing in mind, they don't want you, they want your food. Take the time to store your food correctly and never keep food on your person, in your tent or sleeping bag. The future of bears is up to us. The human desire for more land and resources is the main threat to the survival of bears throughout the world. We must try to protect the wilderness and continue to set aside areas for bears where people are only visitors – places that bears can call home.

BOBCAT– Felis rufus.

Bobcats are found around Big Bear LakeBeautiful Bobcat in the snow.

Bobcats are found in almost all types of habitat, it has the widest and most continuous range of any California carnivore. The name Bobcat may have originated from its short tail, which is only 6 or 7 inches long. The Bobcat has long legs, and pointed ears tipped with short hairs. Its short fur varies in color from tawny-gray, tan to reddish-brown and has dark spots and blotches. Adult bobcats measure from 30 to 45 inches long, including their tail. Males weigh from 18 to 24 pounds. Females weigh about 16 pounds and are shorter than the males.

Bobcats are active mainly at night, although I have come across them at different times of the day. They are extremely shy and quickly run away when approached. I have observed them jumping and playing by themselves. Bobcats have keen sight and hearing, are good climbers, effortless jumpers and can also swim. They feed mainly on rabbits, birds, and rodents such as mice, wood rats, squirrels, and gophers.

Bobcats occupy areas from ¼ of a square mile to as much as 25 square miles, depending on the habitat and sex of the Bobcat. Bobcats mate in late winter or early spring. After a 60 – 65 day gestation period the female gives birth to 2 or 3 kittens, weighing 4 to 8 ounces. The young remain with their mother until late summer.

Until 1971 the Bobcat was pursued and destroyed as an undesirable predator, and little thought was given to its status or welfare. Although there is international protection of the world’s spotted cats, the pelt of the Bobcat can still be taken legally. The trapping of bobcats endangers their survival and is opposed by wildlife conservation groups. Because of the value of the Bobcat’s fur and the recent increase in the take by hunters and licensed fur trappers, the California Fish and Game Commission has imposed a wintertime trapping season to control the amount of time when Bobcat can be hunted. These measures should insure the survival of the Bobcat and hopefully, this beautiful creature will be recognized as a valuable part of our wildlife resources.



Cougar or Mountain LionMountain Lion.

The mountain lion, commonly known as the cougar, panther or puma (puma is an Incan word), may be either a gray color or red or yellowish color called tawny with black-tipped ears and tail. It is smaller than the jaguar, but is North America’s largest cat. This animal has no spots, although the kittens or cubs are covered with blackish-brown spots and have dark rings around their tails. The markings fade as they mature. Adult males may be more than 8 feet long, from nose to the end of the tail (up to 5 feet not counting the tail). The body is slender, and the legs are long. The head is round and rather small.

Mountain lions have from one to five cubs at a time, generally two years apart. The cubs weigh about 1 pound at birth. Adults care for their young until they are able to survive alone. Young lions need about two years to develop enough skill to find their own food. They may live to be 10 to 20 years old. The mountain lion usually hunts at night and preys on large animals such as deer. It travels long distances after game in a single night. In case of need it can survive on small mammals and other wildlife.

Despite their size and strength, mountain lions are shy and retiring, they are timid towards people, which is why you can live in mountain lion country and never see one. Although mountain lions seldom attack people (there is a far greater risk of being struck by lighting), if you go hiking, try not to go alone and always keep small children close to you. Do not approach a lion; most lions will try to avoid a confrontation, so give then a way to escape. Do not run from a lion as this may cause the lion to chase you, instead turn and face the animal and make eye contact. Don’t bend over or turn your back. Avoid bending, but pick up small children, so they don’t run. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. The idea is to convince the lion that you are not prey and you may be a danger to it.

The status of the mountain lion in California evolved from that of “bountied predator” between 1907 and 1963 to “game animal” in 1969. Since 1990 the Mountain Lion has been protected, which reflected the public’s appreciation and concern for this magnificent animal. We must always keep in mind that the number one killer of wildlife is the loss and fragmentation of habitat.

COYOTE – Canis latrans

The coyote’s name is derived from the Aztec word “coyotl”. It is a member of the dog family and resembles a small German Shepherd, but slimmer boned and weighing much less, up to 31lbs (14kg), (a German Shepard can weigh up to 175lbs). An adult coyote measures about 4 feet (1.2 meters) long, including its 11-to 16-inch (28- to 41 centimeter) tail. Adult coyotes vary in color from light yellow or yellowish-gray to brownish-yellow. Their fur may be tipped with black. The coyote has large pointed ears, a narrow jaw and bushy tail. Most coyotes live alone or in pairs, but some form groups of three or more. You can tell them apart from their larger cousins, the wolf and domestic dog because coyotes carry their tail low when running, while wolves and dogs carry their tail high.


Most female coyotes first mate when they are about 2 years old. Pairs mate for life with dog-like devotion. Litters contain between 5 to 10 young, and the male feeds the nursing female. A newborn coyote weighs from 7 to 10 ounces. The female provides milk for her young until they are 6 – 7 weeks old. Most coyote pups can care for themselves by late summer, when they leave their parents, but some pups may not leave the family group for up to two years. As many as 50 to 70% of all juvenile coyotes die before they reach adulthood, most due to human related causes.

Coyotes can and do eat almost anything: carrion, freshly killed prey, insects, fruit, squirrels, mice, rats, gophers, rabbits, fish, frogs and other animals. Coyotes can be observed throughout the day, but are most active at dusk and dawn. Hungry coyotes will attack domestic cats and dogs, so don’t leave smaller pets outside unattended or large pets outside early morning or late afternoon. Coyotes can run at speeds up to 30mph for short distances and maintain a 20mph lope for long periods.

The coyote is known for its eerie howl. A common call is two short barks and a long wavering yodel. It’s howling and yipping serves to communicate with family members and to notify neighboring coyotes of its presence in the area. The coyote is a shrewd and highly adaptable animal; it has survived trapping, poisoning and other attempts to exterminate it, since humans first domesticated animals hundreds of years ago. In the wild, coyotes are timid with a natural fear of humans, however they are curious animals and may watch you from a distance.

Hopefully in the future we can learn to co-habitate with coyotes and other creatures that, like us, just want to find a safe place to raise their young.

GRAY FOX – Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Grey Fox can be found in the Big Bear areaGrey Fox with a large bushy tail.

The gray fox is a bushy-tailed, sharp-snouted member of the dog family. They can vary in size from 21” – 46” in length, including the tail. The tail measures from 14” – 16”. Most of these animals weigh from 7 – 15 lbs. The back of the gray fox has the color of salt and pepper mixed together. The animal’s underparts are whitish. The sides of the neck, shoulders, and legs, and the underside of the tail are rust-colored. The tail of the gray fox has a black tip. This fox is also called the tree fox because it often climbs trees. It has partially retractable claws. Foxes communicate with each other using growls, yelps and short yapping barks.

Besides intelligence, the fox has keen hearing and an excellent sense of smell; they are quick and skilful hunters. Their diet consists of rats, mice, rabbits, birds, insects, lizards, snakes and fruits and berries in season. They hunt mostly at night, but will sometimes forage during the day. They remain active the year round.

Foxes are family-oriented and live in family groups while the young are growing, at other times they live alone or in pairs. They do not form packs like wolves. Foxes mate when they are about one year old, sometime between January and March. After mating, foxes live in dens that can be underground, hollow logs or trees, small caves or among boulders.

The gestation period is about 2 months and the female gives birth in late winter or early spring. Both the female (vixen) and the male (dog)protect and bring food for the pups. The pups start to live on their own in late summer, and may wander far from where they were born. Because the female is highly territorial, the parents may separate then and rejoin in the Autumn or Winter.


MULE DEER - Odocileus hemionus

Mule Deer amoungst the Corn LiliesMule Deer amoungst the Corn Lillies.
The Mule deer is a beautiful animal with large, furry ears similar to those of a mule. The mule deer is moderately large, grayish- to brownish-colored with a black tail. The large branching antlers are restricted almost entirely to males. The mule deer can grow up to 6' in length and 3' to 3 ½' tall at the shoulders and is noted for it's peculiar stiff-legged gait.It can swiftly bound over the roughest trail much faster than the average animal. Although they have acute senses of sight and hearing, these deer rely largely upon the sense of smell in detecting danger.


Mule deer of both sexes normally do most of their feeding in early morning before sunrise or in late afternoon and evening before sundown, they spend the middle of the day resting in cool, secluded places. In the winter, they may seek out sunny places that are hidden from view with vegetation. The mule deer eats grass during the spring, but lives on buds, twigs, leaves, berries and acorns the rest of the year. The gestation period is roughly 210 days, and the fawning period extends over several weeks in June, July and August. At birth fawns weigh about 2.5kg; after about 60 to 75 days they are weaned from milk to a diet of vegetation. They reach sexual maturity at about 18 months. Although they are a rare sight in the Big Bear area, you have to be careful when driving the mountain roads at night as they sometimes can be seen along the road's edge.

RACCOON - Procyon lotor

Raccoon FamilyMama Raccoon with her young kits.
Raccoons are found only in North America, and primarily in the United States. They are furry animals with a bushy, ringed tail and a band of black hair around their eyes. This black hair looks like a mask. Raccoons measure from 30 to 38 inches long, including their tail, which may grow as long as 12 inches. They weigh between 12 to 25 pounds and the male is usually bigger than the female. Raccoons have long, coarse hair that is usually grey in color, but sometimes tinged with yellow or brown. They have a pointed snout. They have a special place in the collective body of Native American folklore and mythology. One can't help but like this cute animal that looks like a bandit. The raccoon is the trickster, the opponent who outsmarts his enemies, and who uses his hands like a human. He is quick and agile, although he appears slow. The raccoon is an intelligent and determined animal that lives alongside man and survives.


Raccoons have highly dexterous forepaws and they have the habit of rubbing, feeling and dunking their food in water. They live both on the ground,in trees and other shelters. They may live alone but mostly they live in small groups. They are nocturnal, hunting for food at night and staying in their dens during the day; they usually live near or around water. They have strong, sharp claws and are good climbers, swimmers, and fighters. Some people say that they will attack dogs and cats; but several years ago, when there was an old stray cat in the neighborhood, the cat used to eat and the raccoons would respectfully sit around him and wait to see if he would leave anything for them. They were never aggressive with him.

In cold areas, Raccoons sometimes sleep for long periods in the winter, but they don't hibernate. They mate between January and June. Although the female can have from one to seven babies, she usually has three or four. She protects her young and does not even allow the father near them. The babies stay in the den for 8 to 10 weeks, then, they begin to follow their mother while she searches for food. Raccoons eat fish, crabs, frogs, acorns, bird's eggs, corn, fruit, nuts, seeds and small land animals such as grasshoppers and mice. The animal's name originated from a North American word aroughcan or arakan, which means "he who scratches with his hands". They are linked to the dog-bear line of evolution.