Biologists Collect Valuable Data From First Resident Bear in 20 Years of Mountain Lion Study
National Park Service (NPS) biologists captured and radio-collared a 210-pound black bear on April 23 in a natural area of the western Santa Monica Mountains south of the 101 Freeway. The male bear, estimated to be about 3-4 years old, has been named BB-12. The biologists conducted a full workup on the bear, including collecting biological samples, taking various body measurements, attaching an ear tag, conducting a physical exam, and fitting a GPS radio collar around its neck.
Although there have been bear sightings in the area over the years, this is the first time biologists have captured and radio-collared a bear in the Santa Monica Mountains. There is no evidence of a breeding population of black bears in the Santa Monica Mountains or the Simi Hills, south of the 118 Freeway. The nearest population of black bears is in the Santa Susana Mountains, north of the 118 Freeway.
“This seems to be our first resident bear in the 20 years we have conducted mountain lion research in the area,” said Jeff Sikich, the lead field biologist of the park’s two-decade mountain lion study. “It will be interesting to see how he shares the landscape with our other resident large carnivores.”
In July 2021, a young black bear was spotted on Reino Road in Newbury Park. Since then, images of a bear have been seen on wildlife trail cameras in half of the Santa Monica Mountains, from Malibu Creek State Park to the range’s western border in Point Mugu State Park. Biologists say BB-12 may be the same bear.
Black bears are omnivores and can live between 15 and 25 years. They primarily eat fruits, nuts, roots, and insects, but they will also eat small animals, including deer, as well as human food found in cars or at campsites, pet food, unsecured trash, and dead animals they find. “As this bear gets older and is looking to mate, it might attempt to move back north and cross the freeway again,” Sikich said. “There is no evidence of an existing population here in the Santa Monica Mountains, and therefore likely no females. With the radio collar, we can track its movements and hopefully know where it may attempt to cross the freeway. This can help us better understand habitat connectivity for wildlife in the area.”
Bear sightings have been rare in the Santa Monica Mountains. In the early 2000s, a bear carcass was discovered under a landslide in Malibu Creek State Park. In 2016, a bear was documented three times over three months on wildlife trail cameras in the central portion of the mountains but then never detected again. Other black bears have occasionally been spotted through the years north of the 101 Freeway in the Simi Hills.
Black bears are not native to Southern California. In the 1930s, about 30 bears from Yosemite National Park were translocated into the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. From there, their population grew and expanded.
If you encounter a bear while hiking, keep a safe distance and slowly back away. Let the bear know you are there. Make yourself look bigger by lifting and waving your arms and making noise by yelling, clapping your hands, using noisemakers, or whistling. Do not run and do not make eye contact. Let the bear leave the area on its own. If a bear makes contact, fight back. NPS biologists are excited to add this bear to its wildlife study in the Santa Monica Mountains. They expect it will help provide new insights on how wildlife utilizes this urban, fragmented landscape.