Can Humans And Bears Coexist Peacefully?
Thanks to human activities like deforestation and urbanization, encounters with wild animals have become more commonplace. In response, some wild animals (including tigers and grizzly bears) have been known to change their behaviors to avoid humans — for example, by increasing their nightly activities.
However, when food sources become scarce, research suggests that some wild animals will take more risks and get closer to humans. This may result in the consumption of human food waste, crops, or even farmed animals. The problem is, when carnivorous wild animals (and other animals perceived as dangerous to humans) come into conflict with humans, they are often killed. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to understand how these animals navigate their environment.
In this research, the investigators wanted to understand how North American black bears use their habitat in areas close to humans. Black bears in North America are known to eat a variety of foods, and the researchers wondered whether the presence of human food sources (e.g., garbage and crops) would affect the bears’ activities. Black bears also hibernate, so the authors wanted to know if their movement patterns would be affected by season.
With this aim, the researchers compared three types of black bear habitat: wild, rural, and urban. They were curious to see whether the bears would use these environments differently, as human presence is more common in rural and urban environments than wild ones. They monitored the bears for 13 months using 54 cameras in Sooke — a region of British Columbia with the highest mortality for black bears due to human-bear conflict.
During the 13 months of the study, the authors made 548 black bear detections, mostly in rural settings followed by wild and then urban. Nocturnal sightings were more common in areas with more human disturbance, suggesting that bears adjust their activities to avoid humans.
In addition, the authors saw the most bears in September and the least bears in February and March. They attribute this to the fact that autumn is typically when bears increase food intake to prepare for hibernation; the bears in this study were mostly seen in rural areas during autumn, where there are ripe crops and other readily-available food sources.
Similar to research on other wild animals, the authors conclude that black bears typically adjust their behaviors to avoid humans but will take risks to access food sources while preparing for hibernation. To prevent conflicts from taking place, it’s important to protect crops, garbage, and other food sources with fences and bear-proof containers, especially in summer and autumn. Farmers should also avoid delaying fruit and crop harvests, as ripe crops can attract black bears. Finally, the authors point out the importance of preserving bear food sources in the wild, such as berries and fishes. If bears have access to their own food, studies suggest they will choose them over human sources.