Researchers have answered a long debated question – are bears bad by nature or do they learn bad behaviors from their parents?
While experts have found no proof of a genetic predisposition for raiding garbage cans or breaking into homes and cars, several studies have concluded that parent bears teach their young cubs to behave this way because human environments are sources of food.
Unfortunately the only way this can end is tragically. When bears stop fearing humans and start attacking us, wildlife officials have no choice but to kill the animals in order to keep people safe. And the planet’s black bear population suffers.
This never ending problem has caught the attention of the press as Nevada wildlife officials have had to kill yet another cub from a 19 year old mother bear. It’s the third cub from the same litter to imitate the mother’s bad behaviors.
She is referred to by wildlife officials as Green 108 and has a long history of causing trouble. Lake Tahoe experts are alarmed by the pattern that her cubs have shown and believe that she will keep teaching bad behaviors to her cubs. They say that as long as humans leave their garbage in the bear’s reach, the animals will always repeat their mother’s mistakes.
Carl Lackey, wildlife biologist working with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, stated that Green 108 can be described as “kind of a chronic, nuisance-type bear. She’s always been getting into trash, always been in the same area. We’ve captured several litters of hers. We’ve captured her several times”.
In 2008, Lackey was the co-authored of a study that investigated what role genetics play in bad bear behaviors. He and his colleagues came to the conclusion that “genetics alone could not explain a nuisance behavior in black bears”. But the study didn’t prove that parent bears are not responsible for how their cubs behave.
The notion of bad behaviors being passed down from generation to generation was first proposed way back in 1989, when a group of National Park Service researchers conducted a study which indicated that the grizzly bears living in Yellowstone get their bad behaviors from their mothers. But the researchers were unable to say whether the cubs inherit these behaviors genetically or whether they learn them.
Another study from 2008 has settled the debate. Victoria Seher and Rachel Mazur, a pair of researchers from Yosemite, the Division of Resources Management, documented parent bears actively teaching bad behaviors to their cubs.
In their study, the duo wrote that they “observed sows pushing cubs into buildings and vehicles to retrieve food rewards”.
Lackey has also witnessed something similar. He explained that when Nevada wildlife officials capture a bear that they then set free, the animal learns what a bear trap looks like and how to avoid it.
Chris Healy, Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman, offered a statement of his own relating how he witnessed mother bears growl at their cubs when they get too close to a bear trap. This makes the young cubs scared and they run away from the traps.
He is convinced that the only way we can solve the bear problem is to solve the garbage problem. As long as bears can get access to human garbage, they will always learn that they can find food there.
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