Bear walking on log

Wild Ark – Article 2

Bear Facts – 11 Things You Should Know

Perceptions of Brown Bears (Ursus arctos), or “Grizzlies,” are often driven by what people see on television or in movies, but in many cases that is a long way from reality. Although some wild animals can cause serious harm, they are more likely to run the other way providing people allow them the respect they deserve. The following eleven bear facts highlight some unique characteristics to remember before heading out into ‘Bear Country.’

1. Bear Behaviour Is Unique To Each Individual

Like people, bears have unique individual characters and an awareness of personal space. The diversity in a bear’s response to encroachment on its critical space makes each encounter different. The essential space of a bear is the area around it that it may defend, and it is vital to adhere to safe distances. A safe distance is one that causes no change to the bears’ behaviour or disturbance in its activity, and it will differ in each situation. In very general terms, a relaxed bear is one that doesn’t pay much attention to you, but it is important to know signs of stress to understand when to back off. Signals to be aware of may include yawning, salivating, jaw popping, head down with a direct focus, mouth open, a potential bluff charge and ultimately an actual charge. In each situation, it is essential to be aware of the surrounds and subtle cues to avoid escalation.

2. There Is A Pecking Order

There is not a ‘bear pack’ as such, but there is order within a bear population. Based on age, size and temperament bears live in a complex dominance hierarchy with adult males at the top and sub-adults and cubs at the bottom. Social position in this hierarchy is determined and kept through aggressive behaviour while trying to avoid physical altercations.

3. Bears Can Co-Exist

Although some individuals avoid other bears in their home range, many bears can co-exist near each other. Adult males may stay away from others to avoid conflict, adult females with cubs will avoid adult males to limit any threat to their young and sub-adults may group for safety in numbers. Bears in a region may know one another and, like people, some bears like each other and some do not get along within their home ranges.

4. Bears Do Not Have Territories

Bears share home ranges with other bears and are not territorial. They will not keep other members of their species away from their range, and this mutual use of resources and surrounding land is a foundation for social behaviour within the species.

 

Brown Bear Sleeping

5. They Are Most Active During the Day

Usually, bears are active from morning to the evening but may be seen anytime during the day or night. Avoidance of humans can lead to bears becoming more active at night. After denning, some coastal bears head to estuaries to graze on sedge and other plants and mussels and gunnel fish within the intertidal zones. During this period, they may be feeding up to fifteen hours a day or more to maintain condition.

6. Bears Are Extremely Curious

Bears have good eyesight, excellent hearing and a very keen sense of smell. They will use these heightened senses to examine objects, listen for noises and follow odours to assess whether they can eat or play with it. Standing up on their back legs is a result of curiosity and investigation.

7. They Are Sensitive To Changes In Their Environment

The introduction of new things to their habitat or changes in conditions may unsettle bears. Bears can be described as neophilic, as they can be attracted to a novel item or scent. A strange, additional item in the area may provoke curiosity with some element of risk assessment determining if the bear will investigate or not. This is often not an act of aggression and more an indication of how sensitive they are to their surrounding environment.

8. Bears Are Easily Distracted

Despite all the benefits of their heightened senses and their curious nature, bears can sometimes be oblivious to what is going on around them. A bear using a trail may have its head down following a scent, preoccupied with food or ambient sounds, such as a flowing river that may drown out other noises. It is possible in these circumstances for a bear to have a surprise encounter with a person. In these cases, it is advised for hikers and the like to make some noise while out in the forest, periodically calling out softly to let unsuspecting bears know people are around and give them a chance to avoid the encounter altogether.

 

Brown Bear in field

9. Bears Are Extremely Intelligent

Bears have a keen awareness of their environment, they learn from encounters with people and are extremely intelligent. Increased vigilance behaviour by a feeding bear, while people are around, can have a negative impact. A bear that is being disturbed by people and continually looking up is losing crucial feeding time, which can impact on long-term survival. It is not just a single disturbance, it is the cumulative effects of repeated disturbances that influence behaviour. So, keeping a safe distance will increase the chances of a bear going about its business comfortably.

10. Bears Are Not Vicious

Bears are shy animals and will usually choose to avoid people. A primary reason they will be around humans is if they are forced to due to the location of food. This may occur in response to encroachment by industry, habitat loss, or by people hiking near a desired food source during various times of the year. It is important to remember that bears will actively protect crucial food sources and a mother with cubs will always be highly alert to her surrounds.

11. All Wild Animals Must Be Respected

The response from a bear during any encounter with people is usually at the expense of the bear. Bears are always on the lookout for their preferred foods which may include sedge, berries, and salmon or other forms of protein. Feeding bears can lead to them becoming food-conditioned to people, which may be good for people but at great detriment to the bears. This may bring them closer to people, putting them at higher risk of a close encounter that results in them being killed by humans.

Colin Rossiter is currently studying a Master of Applied Science (Wildlife ecology) at Central Queensland University in Australia. He is part of a research team, studying brown (grizzly) bears at Knight Inlet Lodge in the Glendale Cove region of BC, Canada. Read our interview with Colin Counting Grizzlies.

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CQU: Article 1

Colin’s ‘breathtaking’ research – counting grizzlies in the wilds of Canada

Published:17 July 2018

Mackay resident Colin Rossiter has lived and worked throughout Australia but says he would move to Canada in a heartbeat.

“It’s breathtaking!” says the man who has arranged an enviable Masters research project, counting grizzly bears under the supervision of CQUniversity’s Professor Owen Nevin and Canada’s Dr Melanie Clapham (who works at the University of Victoria in British Columbia as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow).

“My average day begins by conducting bear counts within the estuary at Glendale Cove,” Colin says.

“These are conducted from a boat and involve traversing the cove recording bear presence. This is repeated at regular intervals throughout the day.

“When required, Melanie and I check the network of trail cameras, changing memory cards and batteries. Many of these cameras are situated along well-worn brown bear trails through the forest and are placed to capture footage of passing bears and scent marking activity at rub trees.

“As we move into Autumn, I will begin my data collection at the spawning channel on the elevated viewing stands and complete the field work by the end of October.

“This schedule requires me to make observations during all times of the day, working on a rotating roster to capture morning, afternoon, evening and overnight behaviours.”

Colin grew up in the Goulburn Valley region, with the Goulburn River, Lake Eildon and Victoria’s Alpine regions nearby.

He spent a couple of years in the United Kingdom as a child and has also worked and lived in the Sunraysia region of Victoria, the south coast of Western Australia and the Whitsundays in Queensland.

Colin has worked as a forest firefighter and as an aviation rescue firefighter. He earned a National Emergency Services Medal for work during the Black Saturday Bushfires, as part of the first attack taskforce sent into the Marysville area.

The keen student has a degree in history and sociology from Latrobe University, focused on environmental history and human impact on nature. He also studied science at CQUniversity with a focus on ecology and conservation biology.

“I was studying at CQUni and had spent a bit of time in Canada with a friend of mine that works for Parks Canada at Riding Mountain National Park and Wapusk National Park in Manitoba,” Colin says.

“I was told about Owen Nevin and his research interests in large carnivorous mammals by one of my then lecturers and approached him with a project on polar bears at Wapusk National Park. We discussed a few options and the brown bear (grizzly) research came up and it was too good an opportunity to knock back.”

Colin recently had the pleasure of accompanying the First Nations Guardians of Knight Inlet on a trip to the head of Knight Inlet.

“The Guardian program has First Nations people provide stewardship for the area,” he says.

“Angela and Stanley gave me a brief history of their people on where and how they lived, old village sites and stories that had been passed down through the generations of their families. It was an absolutely stunning trip with breathtaking landscapes lined with glaciers, mountains, forests and waterfalls. It is an amazing place.”

Colin is keen to emphasise the support received from Knight Inlet Lodge.

“Without their dedication to bear research and ongoing support through accommodation, food, vehicles and equipment none of this would be possible,” he says.

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Wild Ark: Article 1

From the Field: Counting Grizzlies

Meet WildArk’s newest contributor Colin Rossiter who will be sharing his adventures in researching “Grizzly” bears in the wilds of Knights Inlet – a saltwater inlet surrounded by snow-capped mountains and home to an abundance of wildlife including humpback whales, orcas, wolves, Bald eagles, dolphin and seals, in Glendale Cove, BC, Canada over the coming months.

Colin has a special interest in brown bears or “grizzly” bears as they are better known and is currently studying his Masters in Applied Science (Wildlife/ Behavioural Ecology) at Central Queensland University.

He will spend five months each year (June - October) as part of a research team under the guidance of Professor Owen Nevin and Dr Melanie Clapham, studying the effects of ecotourism on “grizzly” bear behaviour in in this biologically rich ecosystem.

Colin enjoying the BC wilderness.

We caught up with Colin to find out more about his upcoming project…

WildArk: Why is this research important?

Colin: Early research conducted from 1998–2002 revealed temporal avoidance by large male bears at feeding sites, when humans were present. Avoidance by these big males, resulted in more regular visits by females and cubs who took refuge by accessing feeding sites more effectively when people were present. A net benefit to the population was recorded which was a rare example of ecotourism having a positive impact on wildlife populations.

This new project gives us the unique opportunity to compare the behaviour of one generation of brown bears to another in the same location, and will give us insight into potential long-term impacts of ecotourism and brown bear viewing.

Mum and cub foraging for food in the inlet.

WildArk: Tell us more about Glendale Cove?

Colin: Glendale Cove is at about the halfway point of Knight Inlet (which lies within the Pacific Ranges and is at the southernmost end of the Coast Mountains). It is situated at the southern end of the Great Bear Rainforest, which is the largest intact temperate rainforest left in the world.

Biologically, this ecosystem includes biodiversity hotspots like estuaries and is important bear habitat due to a wide variety of food sources, including sedge meadows, intertidal foraging (mussels, gunnel fish etc.), berries in the forest and salmon. Although the home range of bears is thought to be quite vast, the location and readily available food sources make it a highly visited estuary by the surrounding brown bear population.

View over Glendale Cove, the area in which Colin will be doing his research.

WildArk: How will you be conducting your research?

Colin: We will focus on bear behaviour under viewing and non-viewing conditions. This will include observations from elevated viewing stands during the salmon run (Autumn — end of October). I will be recording bear behaviour, ID and feeding patterns by staying on the stands during various times of day, including morning, afternoon, evening and overnight while viewing groups move in and out.

A network of trail cameras and hair traps are spread out through the forest along bear trails and nearby rub trees. These form part of Dr Melanie Clapham’s Brown Bear ID Project to capture images for a facial recognition program and serve as an important method in identifying individual bears that frequent the area. Hair samples can then be cross referenced with facial ID to create a database of the genetic make up of the population. These are important in understanding genetic diversity amongst the bears that pass through the area and may reside in the wider region.

WildArk: Why Grizzly Bears?

Colin: The distribution of brown bears or ‘Grizzlies’, has decreased dramatically over a number of years. Population levels have dropped due to habitat loss, degradation and trophy hunting, and together with the high mortality rate of cubs and a naturally slow recruitment rate, there is an increasing need to preserve what is here now for the future. In the past brown bears in North America had been nearly hunted to extinction, so they need continuous work not only to maintain numbers, but to become a healthy population.

Personally, I believe in helping those that cannot help themselves and I’m hoping I can add something to the current research to increase understanding in this area. After sitting quietly watching bears go about their business, it becomes apparent that they are individuals, with individual characters, that have a great awareness of their environment and are very susceptible to change.

Grizzly Bears in Knights Inlet.

WildArk: What kinds of conservation projects are in place in this area to protect them?

Colin: Knight Inlet Lodge has taken environmental stewardship seriously since commencing operations, running projects on both brown bears and salmon in the area. Salmon numbers had decreased to such a level that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) installed an artificial spawning channel in the Glendale River to support and increase salmon numbers. Knight Inlet Lodge took over running and maintenance of the spawning channel as it was found to be a critical junction as a prime feeding site for the bears in the region. At the request of Knight Inlet Lodge, Professor Barrie Gilbert and then graduate student Owen Nevin commenced long-term behavioural studies into the brown bear population in the area.

More recent and current research projects by Dr Melanie Clapham and John Kitchin include scent marking and the importance of rub trees, genetic monitoring of the population, trail camera and photo ID work to establish a database for the Brown Bear ID Project.

WildArk: Describe your average day?

Colin: At present my average day begins by conducting bear counts within the estuary at Glendale Cove. These are conducted from a boat and involve traversing the cove recording bear presence. This is repeated at regular intervals throughout the day.

When required, Melanie and I check the network of trail cameras, changing memory cards and batteries. Many of these cameras are situated along well-worn brown bear trails through the forest and are placed to capture footage of passing bears and scent marking activity at rub trees.

As we move into Autumn, I will begin my data collection at the spawning channel on the elevated viewing stands and complete the field work by the end of October. This schedule requires me to make observations during all times of the day, working on a rotating roster to capture morning, afternoon, evening and overnight behaviours. At times, I will be on the stands with viewing groups present and at others I will be alone in non-viewing times and for overnight stays.

WildArk: What kind of equipment do you need to do your research?

Colin: Temperatures during the season range from 0 to 30 degrees celsius, with an annual rainfall of approximately 6 metres. This means full waterproofing of everything, including my equipment and myself is required. Full personal protective equipment is required due to the remote location and the use of a variety of vehicles such as boats, trucks, kayaks and cars. Other gear includes binoculars, waterproof bags, laptops, sealed cases and my trusty old camera.

WildArk: What are you looking forward to most?

Colin:More field work and data collection! I will be spending as much time in the field to extend research in the area to help us better understand Grizzly bears. It is hoped that the outcomes go some way to ensuring better protection and management of Grizzly bears and their habitat.