Walk Like A Bear (JHARVNC)


This program about the natural history of black bears in Arkansas may include making black bear tracks, investigating physical characteristics with the pelt and skull of a black bear, plus games for elementary audiences.

Grade Level:

K - 12

Recommended Setting:

Classroom or outdoor space with class seated for introductions, then enough open space to play game related to bears

Outdoor Activity:



Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith


Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993


30 - 45 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

25 - 30

Special Conditions:

Space for game


  • Define a limiting factor
  • Understand that black bear populations are controlled by limiting factors
  • Define the components of habitat: food, water and shelter or cover
  • Understand that suitable habitat is needed for survival
  • Recognize a black bear’s typical dietary needs

Key Terms*:

Black bear



Limiting factors


*See glossary for definations


How Many Bears Can Live in a Forest game box (adapted from Project WILD)

Two blindfolds

Box of reusable Ziploc-style bags

Set of 2-inch square colored cards in orange, blue, yellow, red and green

Black bear pelt and/or skull (optional)


(NOTE: The following introduction was taken from the AGFC website. For the complete report, go to http://www.agfc.com/wildlife-conservation/mammals/bear-mammals.aspx)

The black bear is the smallest of the three North American bear species, the other two being the grizzly and polar bear. The weight of black bears varies. Adult females seldom reach 300 pounds, but males weighing more than 700 pounds have been recorded. Bears in Arkansas are heavier than most. Males seven years or older usually exceed 400 pounds.

Black is the predominant color of black bears in the eastern United States, but brown or "cinnamon" is more common in the West. In both instances, the breast may have a patch of white. Bears have poor eyesight but have an extraordinary sense of smell and are one of Arkansas' more intelligent mammals. The short-term outlook for Arkansas' black bears is bright. Bears have been restored and are increasing in many parts of the state. With proper management, the bear population in Arkansas has the potential to some day sustain harvests many times the current level. However, the long-term future is uncertain because of the threat of habitat destruction.

The black bear was once one of the most widely distributed mammals in North America, but today it is absent from many interior regions of the continent. Bears were extirpated in western Arkansas but successfully reintroduced in the 1950s and 1960s. As for habitat requirements, they need suitable denning sites, plenty of escape cover and a liberal supply of high-quality foods. Using the following outline, the specific needs of Arkansas’ black bear will be discussed.

Habitat Needs/Limiting Factors

  • Food – Nuts, berries, insects, meat, plants
  • Water
  • Shelter – especially important for bears for feeding, hiding, bedding, traveling, raising cubs and denning
  • Space – especially important for bears because when space is limited, adults will kill young or run them off


  1. Seat participants.
  2. Introduce program beginning with black bears and habitat needs, then explain participants will play a game where they become black bears in Arkansas.
  3. Discuss black bears’ habitat needs and limiting factors.
  4. Once participants understand habitats and limiting factors, introduce game.
  5. How Many Bears Can Live in This Forest game (adapted from Project WILD)
    • Play the game to demonstrate what happens when one or more habitat needs are scarce as bears prepare for winter.
    • Give each participant a resealable bag. Have them pick a spot in the classroom to be their den where they must leave their bag. This represents their den location.
    • In the middle of the room, toss out the colored squares, explaining that this is the bears’ food. Have volunteers be special bears.
      • One will be a troublesome teenage male or female bear who got too close to a skunk, was sprayed and is temporarily blind (blindfold him).
      • One will be a mother bear that has two cubs, so her challenge is to gather twice as much food.
      • Another is an inquisitive teenage male bear that got in a fight and injured his leg. Use a blindfold to tie one leg up or to the other.
    • Participants may then begin playing the game. They must gather as many colored squares as they can, but only one at a time, and bring it back to their den, then return for more food.
    • When all food is gathered, have the participants total the numbers on their squares. Each bear needs 80 pounds to survive the winter.
    • Find out which bears survived and which ones did not.
    • Pick a few audience members to identify the specific type of food they gathered: orange is nuts, blue is berries, yellow is insects, red is meat, green is plants. Bears need 20 pounds of nuts, 20 pounds of berries and fruits, 12 pounds of insects, eight pounds of meat and 20 pounds of plants ideally. Discuss what participants gathered.
    • If time permits, play another round or two and see how the bears have adjusted.
  6. When the game is over, wrap up by discussing the needs of black bears (nuts, berries, insects, meat, plants) versus what humans think bears need. Refresh habitat needs and limiting factors.


If the game is not selected, use the pelt and skull to discuss the habitat and food preferences of a black bear. Create bear tracks if extra time is available.


  • What is a limiting factor?
  • Describe some of the limiting factors that affected the survival of the bears in the activity.
  • What are habitat needs?
  • If one of these limiting factors was no longer limiting, what might be the consequences to the individual animal and its population?


Sealander, John A. and Gary A. Heidt, 1990. Arkansas Mammals. The University of Arkansas Press.


Black bear – a medium-sized North American bear and the largest native mammal in Arkansas, Ursus (Euarctos) americanus, relatively common in uninhabited mountainous areas, ranging from light brown to black with a straight brown muzzle: northern populations may be gray to near-white; restored by AGFC from a low of about 50 in the 1940s to around 4,000 today


Cover – shelter for wild animals such as thickets and dense vegetation, brush piles and forests


Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs


Limiting factors – elements that affect the amount of wildlife a habitat can sustain, including food, water, space, predators, disease and pollution


Shelter (wildlife) – protection, cover refuge or safety