Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Gordon M. Burghardt

Committee Members

Joel F Lubar, Stephen Handel


The behavior of the American black bear, Ursus americanus, has been poorly documented in the past. This investigation is a preliminary analysis of the diurnal activities of a hand-reared female and a captive wild male black bear, and the successful breeding of another pair of captive black bears.

Two black bears were kept in a semi-naturalistic enclosure at Tremont within the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP). Their daily activities were recorded by a scan sampling technique, supplemented by photographic accounts. Detailed systemic records were kept of behaviors classified into categories (locomotor, non-locomotor). The bears' activities were analyzed in terms of the female's oestrous cycle, weather conditions and enclosure conditions. Differences were found in overall activity as a function of the three variables considered, with the greatest effect evidenced when the bears where allowed together: the female's activity level decreased and the male's activity level increased. No more than 20% of the total time observed was spent engaged in non-locomotor activities.

Because the Tremont bears did not breed, another pair of black bears, kept in the Goldrush Junction Amusement Park (outside GSMNP), were observed and filmed during breeding activities. Prior to copulation, the male activity followed the female, sniffing and licking her external genitalia; the female remained passive, but exhibited a tail lift just prior to the mount. Six sequences of copulation were observed, most of which extended 20 minutes or more. The mount resembled that of canids: the male grasps the female with his forelegs, anterior to her hind legs, but in the inguinal area. Neck biting by the male was observed consistently. Quivering of the male (perhaps related to the intromission) occured while mounted. After mating, the female appeared restless and was more active than the male. During this time, she exhibited quiverings, or muscle spasms, of her hindquarters.

Although both pairs of bears were enclosed in semi-naturalistic facilities, it is suggested that the topography of the behavior patterns observed may not have been altered to any appreciable extent.

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