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Bear Tales and Some Grizzly Secrets

Louisa Willcox

Posted December 30, 2009 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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Everyone who lives around grizzly bears or visits bear country winds up with a few stories to tell.  And who is not fascinated by an animal that can fish with its feet and can’t get enough back scratching?  Following are a few of the best stories and new science tidbits from 2009:

  • Bear in the basement.  In May, a group of Hutterites cornered a 300-pound bear in the basement of a building in their colony near Choteau, Montana, and at 10-15 feet away, snapped pictures of it.  The bear had been chased into the basement by the colony’s border collies.  “It was actually pretty cool,” said Teresa Housen, member of the Hutterite colony.  “He was just sitting there like a little teddy bear.  He actually was cute.”  The episode ended safely after state game officials tranquilized the bear, hauled it out of the basement with the help of the Hutterites, and moved it back to the mountains.
  • Northern Wanderer.  On June 18th, a grizzly bear was spotted near Sachs Harbor, on the southern coast of Banks Island, in the northernmost Northwest Territories.  Although residents of this remote arctic hamlet were used to seeing polar bears, they had not seen a grizzly bear there before.  The bear would have had to cross the sea ice to Banks Island.  Resident Samantha Lucas told CBC that “it’s the first time in her 42 years of living there that a grizzly came to town.”
  • Sarah Palin’s survival tips learned from grizzlies.  In July 2009, Mother Jones reported that Alaska’s former Governor Sarah Palin tweeted about survival tips she had picked from a grizzly bear.  “[M]uch you see in wild territory incl. amazing creature w/mamma bear’s guttural instinct to protect and prov’d for her young; she sees danger? She brazenly rises on strong hind legs, growls ‘DON’T TOUCH MY CUBS’, and the species survives.”  That is, unless “mamma bear” is shot for appearing to be aggressive towards humans.
  • Bear back-scratching yields data on grizzly population.  In Glacier National Park, Kate Kendall, a USGS scientist who has led a major monitoring effort of the Northern Continental Divide grizzly bear population, has been taking advantage of the grizzly’s irresistible urge to scratch its back on trees.  Collecting hair samples left behind on “rub trees” is adding additional insight to the health of the Glacier bear population, allowing scientists to assess whether the population is stable, increasing or declining.  Nearly 5,000 rub trees were monitored in 2004, and a new study will reassess these sites in 2009.  If the dataset from the sampling program proves to be a reliable indicator of the population status, it will be far less costly than the $4.8 million spent on DNA survey methods to assess the health of the Glacier bear population. 
  • Fancy Footwork.  Last year, a BBC film crew shot footage of grizzlies in coastal British Columbia using deft footwork underwater to shove salmon from deep pools into shallow water, where they are easier to catch.  Documenting behavior never before caught on film, this footage showed that grizzlies can use their feet to help them catch fish without getting their ears wet.  Wildlife cameraman Jeff Turner said, “most bears will do anything to avoid getting their ears wet…they hate it.”  Previous efforts to use remotely operated cameras to document bears’ underwater footwork had been thwarted, when the bears bit through the camera cables.  “This is the first time anyone has really seen what they are doing underwater,” Turner said.
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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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