Tag Archives: bear

Perfectly preserved Ice Age ‘cave bear’ remains found in New Siberian Islands

The remains of a perfectly preserved Ice Age cave bear were just discovered in the Russian Arctic, with its nose, teeth, and internal organs still intact. The finding was made by a group of reindeer herders on the Lyakhovsky Islands, which are part of the New Siberian Islands archipelago in the Arctic.

Credit North-Eastern Federal University

The bear’s remains were revealed by the melting permafrost. It is believed to have died 22,000 to 39,500 years ago. The species, Ursus spelaeus, lived in Eurasia during the last ice age and then went extinct 15,000 years ago. Previously, scientists only had been able to discover partial skeletons of cave bears, which makes the new findings groundbreaking.

Scientists of the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, the leading center for research into woolly mammoths and other prehistoric species, highlighted the importance of the discovery. They were initially alerted by local reindeer herders but haven’t been able to travel to the site yet, as it’s a long way from Yakutsk.

“Today this is the first and only find of its kind — a whole bear carcass with soft tissues. It is completely preserved, with all internal organs in place including even its nose. Previously, only skulls and bones were found. This find is of great importance for the whole world,” scientist Lena Grigorieva from the North-Eastern Federal University said in a statement.

Cave bears roamed Europe and Asia when the continents were covered in glaciers. They shared the landscape with other impressive creatures such as mammoths, saber toothed cats and giant ground sloths. They could weigh up to 2,200 pounds (one tonne), which is 500 pounds (225 kg) heavier than the largest bears currently alive.

Greigorieva and her colleagues said the bear’s age was only an estimate until carbon dating could add precision. They will carry out studies to know more about the carcass, including a genetic analysis. The reindeer herders have transferred the right to research to the scientists of NEFU, according to Greigorieva.

As climate change kicks in across the world, the Siberian permafrost, which remains frozen all year, is beginning to melt. As this happens, more and more ice-age creatures are unearthed after lying frozen for tens of thousands of years. The Lyakhovsky Islands, where the bear was found, is also packed with mammoths from the last ice age.

Last year, a group of scientists discovered a 40,000-year-old severed wolf’s head, complete with fur, teeth, brain, and facial tissue on the banks of a river in Yakutia. Other ancient creatures found in the Yakutia ice include two extinct cave-lion cubs and a 42,000-year-old foal. More are expected to be found as the temperature rises.

Polar Bear.

Researchers copy off of polar bear fur to create new, powerful insulator

Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) have reproduced the structure of individual polar bears to create a powerful, lightweight insulator.

Polar Bear.

Image via Pixabay.

Polar bears rely on their fat, skin, and fur to insulate them from the biting Arctic cold. For them, quality insulation is a matter of life and death — so the bears are really good at insulating themselves. Material scientists from the USTC have reproduced the structure of individual polar bear hairs to create an insulating material to be used in architecture and the aerospace industry.

Learning from the best

“Polar bear hair has been evolutionarily optimized to help prevent heat loss in cold and humid conditions, which makes it an excellent model for a synthetic heat insulator,” says co-senior author Shu-Hong Yu, a professor of chemistry at the USTC. “By making tube aerogel out of carbon tubes, we can design an analogous elastic and lightweight material that traps heat without degrading noticeably over its lifetime.”

Unlike the hairs of most mammals, polar bear hairs have hollow cores. Viewed under a microscope they look like long tubes. Apart from giving polar bears their distinctive color, these hairs are also very, very good at trapping heat, insulating against water, and are stretchy and bend to boot. The team says these properties are highly desirable in thermal insulators.

“The hollow centers limit the movement of heat and also make the individual hairs lightweight, which is one of the most outstanding advantages in materials science,” says Jian-Wei Liu, an associate professor at USTC.

The team, which was also by Yong Ni, a mechanical engineering professor at USTC, built millions of hollowed-out carbon nanotubes, each equivalent to a single strand of polar bear hair. Then they bunched everything together into an aerogel block.

Compared to other aerogels or insulators, the team says, their design is lighter and better able to stifle the flow of heat (i.e. its a better thermal insulator). The material is also very water-resistant, which is key to maintaining its performance in humid environments. Finally, it’s also extremely stretchy — more so than even the polar bear hairs themselves, the team explains — making it even more mechanically-resilient and versatile.

So far, the team can produce their aerogel in pieces of only a few centimeters at a time. Their next challenge is to scale-up the manufacturing process to produce meter-long pieces of the insulator at a time, which would make it viable for industrial applications.

“While our carbon-tube material cannot easily be mass produced at the moment, we expect to overcome these size limitations as we work toward extreme aerospace applications,” says Yu.

The paper “Biomimetic Carbon Tube Aerogel Enables Super-Elasticity and Thermal Insulation” has been published in the journal Chem.

Brown bear.

Brown bear saliva kills a bacteria that current antibiotics are unable to treat

An international research team reports that the saliva of a Siberian brown bear (Ursus arctos collaris) subspecies can kill Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, a strain that is rapidly becoming resistant to all current antibiotics.

Brown bear.

Image credits Oksanna Briere.

One subspecies of the Siberian brown bear can kill S.aureus with its bare saliva, a new paper reports. The animal’s range includes Mongolia, Siberia, and parts of northern China. While generally vegetarian, the bears also dine on caribou, elk, and fish. This wide menu has a profound impact on the subspecies’ microbiome, the team writes — including its surprising disinfectant ability.

‘Drool over this, please’

The discovery comes as part of a larger project aiming to study the microbiome of several wild animals. The project’s goal is to find naturally-occurring chemicals which can kill bacteria that also infect humans, especially the strains that are becoming or have become resistant to antibiotic treatments.

The team captured several specimens of the bear subspecies in the taiga — the forested parts of Siberia — and harvested saliva swabs for analysis. Using “state of the art screening techniques,” the team was able to identify the chemical make-up and microbiota of the samples.

One bacteria swimming its merry way in that saliva is Bacillus pumilus, a strain that secretes an antibiotic compound known as amicoumacin A. The team believes the bears obtain this bacterium when they munch on certain types of vegetation.

After finding B.pumilus in the saliva samples, the team looked to see how it interacts with other antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as S.aureus — which is associated with skin infections in humans. That’s how they discovered that the strain can effectively deal with the staphylococcus.

The findings could go a long way in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which are struggling to remove the deadly bacteria. A naturally-occurring chemical that can help us fight staph would be quite valuable.

The team plans to continue the project in hopes of finding even more new compounds that can help us keep bacteria at bay.

The paper “Ultrahigh-throughput functional profiling of microbiota communities” has been published in the journal PNAS.

Extinct cave bear DNA pops up in modern brown bears

Although cave bears have been extinct as a species for 25,000 years, they live through pieces of DNA present in modern brown bears.

Brown bears, like this one, probably all carry sections of cave bear DNA in their genome. Image credits: Lajos Berde.

Neanderthal bears

In 2010, researchers sequenced the Neanderthal DNA and showed that non-African humans have between 1% and 4% Neanderthal DNA, forcing us to re-think the relationship between these human species. Now, a similar thing has happened with bears: the authors of a new study report that all the brown bear genomes they sequenced include at least some cave bear DNA — between 0.9-2.4% of their genome.

Similarly, cave bears also harbor brown bear DNA, although in smaller proportions. This strongly suggests that the two species interbred before cave bears went extinct, since there was gene flow in both directions.

The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) that lived in Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene, becoming extinct some 24,000 years ago during a period called the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). As the name implies, the LGM represents the last glacial period when ice sheets were at their greatest extension, with vast sheets of ice covering Europe, Asia, and North America. As the name implies, the cave bear probably spent a lot of time in caves, unlike the brown bear, which only uses caves for hibernation. Most of the cave bear fossils have been found in or around caves, which is an important piece of evidence.

Cave bears were comparable in size to today’s bears, and previous studies suggest that they had a predominantly or even exclusively vegetarian diet. Today’s brown bears are also predominantly vegetarian, eating fruit, insects, roots and bulbs of plants. However, they will sometimes feed on carrion, and if they’re hungry enough, they will eat insects and small mammals.

Surviving DNA

During the Pleistocene, glaciers came and went, resulting in a series of ice ages separated by warmer periods. These dramatic climatic shifts took a great toll on many creatures, particularly large mammals. Some mammals, which may have been well-adapted for icy periods, found it increasingly difficult to get by in a warming climate. Emblematic creatures like mammoths, cave bears, and the saber-toothed cat fell into this category.

However, the authors of the new study suggest that many of these creatures may have interbred with animals that are still around, carrying along the DNA of long-gone species.

“Although many large mammal species went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene epoch, their DNA may persist due to past episodes of interspecies admixture. However, direct empirical evidence of the persistence of ancient alleles remains scarce,” the researchers write.

This leads us to an intriguing discussion: we tend to think of extinction as an absolute ending, a road of no return. But if DNA fragments of extinct species can survive for such a long time in other species, are they really gone?

The study has been published in Nature.

Microhabitat management may be the key to happy, neighborly bears

Have you ever seen a black bear in your backyard and thought it was searching for an easy meal? Black bears are opportunistic foragers when natural food sources are isolated, but bears do prefer their natural habitat of forests over your yard. Therefore, researchers in Florida suggest that black bear management should focus on conserving microhabitats – small, specialized habitats within a larger habitat.

The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the most widely distributed bear species, ranging across three countries (IUCN Red List, 2018). Black bears play a key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Their foraging habits increase seed dispersal, aid in the process of decay, and redistribute nutrients. Their feces spread seeds to germinate, which promotes pollination and facilitates plant reproduction, further increasing biodiversity. While foraging for insects, bears accelerate the decomposition of the logs they overturn, returning key nutrients to the soil. Healthy soil even benefits human health. Soil with diverse biota enhances the quality and quantity of plant production, increases water retention (reducing flooding and runoff), and reduces human illness caused by particles of dust or pathogens (Carey, 2016).  Thus, black bears provide benefits for all cohabiting species – including us.

As human development expands, bears experience habitat loss and fragmentation. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in human-bear conflicts. Conflicts result in property damage, economic loss, human injury, bear euthanasia, translocation and hazing (rubber bullets, bean bag shotgun rounds, light/sound “scare tactics”), according to the Telluride Daily Planet.

For large mammals in fragmented areas, researchers in Florida found that it’s crucial to understand the microhabitat needs that influence habitat use. This can help wildlife agencies to identify limiting resources, and develop better habitat management strategies. Despite the misconception that bears prefer human food, it’s been shown that bears choose their natural diet of native plants when available. The study, published in Global Ecology and Conservation, further emphasizes black bears’ preferences for the au naturale.  The study investigated “microhabitat features of areas within home ranges that received high vs. low intensity of use”. This was based on utilization distribution.

The features of high-use microhabitats included “high canopy cover, high visual obstruction, high cover of food-producing shrubs, and closer to the creeks but farther away from the roads”. The high-use sites were utilized for resting and foraging, and associated in forested wetlands where cover and food was most abundant. Cover is important “to reduce disturbance from other bears or humans and possibly to aid in thermoregulation”. Low-use sites, where bears were seen less frequently, were used primarily for travelling long distances between preferred areas.

As bears’ natural habitat continues to become fragmented, conservation efforts should focus on restoring “structural and compositional aspects” of their microhabitats. As an umbrella species – whose conservation results in many other species being conserved – black bears should be valued and their forests should be micromanaged, if you will. To help maintain their natural habitat you can secure your trash, bird feeders, pet food, and other bear attractants. Your actions, combined with proper land and wildlife management, will ensure the survival of black bears.

The main findings appeared in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

Journal Reference: Carey, J. (2016). Crucial role of belowground biodiversity. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 113(28), 7682-7685. doi:10.1073/pnas.1609238113

IUCN Red List. 2018. Ursus americanus. Retrieved from http://www.iucnredlist.org/

This is a guest post by Nicole Bodzewski, a graduate student with Miami University, based in Denver, CO.


Veterinarians treat burned bears with fish skin — and it seems to be working

Vets from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have used an unusual treatment for two bears and one cougar suffering from severe burn wounds: fish skin.

Tilapia skin was wrapped around the burned areas. Image credits: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

In December 2017, the Thomas Fire ravaged through California, blazing approximately 281,893 acres (114,078 hectares). It was the largest wildfire in modern California history.

It destroyed over 1,000 buildings, forced 100,000 people to evacuate, and was only put out on January 12, 2018. It claimed at least 15 lives, but humans weren’t the only ones to suffer — wildlife was even more severely affected.

Among the animal victims of the fire were two adult bears (one of which was pregnant) and a 5-month-old cougar from Los Padres National Forest. The bears had third-degree burns on their paws — one of them was so badly injured it couldn’t even stand. Instead of treating them with the conventional bandages, veterinarians went for a different option: fish skin.

As strange as it seems, fish skin (tilapia in particular) has been used to treat burns before, on humans. Brazilian doctors have used fish skin to treat burn victims, due to a shortage of transfer collagen, which is the standard treatment. The doctors then reported that the tilapia skin is very rich in collagen proteins which help with the skin healing and scarring process. The treatment shows promise and is now undergoing clinical trials. But it wasn’t just the desire to try a new, unusual treatment — vets had several reasons why they opted for tilapia skin instead of bandages.

For starters, working with bears and cougars, especially when they’re injured, is no easy feat. Normally, they’re sedated for medical procedures, but you can only sedate them so many times, and bandages need to be changed regularly. Additionally, putting pills in their food is also not very effective because there’s a good chance they just won’t eat it. To make matters even worse, the bears and the cougar would have almost certainly chewed through their bandages, and the textile could clog their intestines. Bandages just wouldn’t do, the vets quickly understood. That’s when they turned to Dr. Jamie Peyton, Chief of Integrative Medicine at the UC Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Peyton typically works with domestic animals, but he has a particular interest in burns. He created a homemade burn salve for the bears’ paws and a process for sterilizing tilapia skin. The technique is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States and had not been tried on veterinary patients. However, it’s not like they had many other choices.

To keep the tilapia skin on the burns, Peyton cut pieces exactly matching the size of their paws, and then sutured them over the wounds while the bear was under anesthesia. Additional temporary wrappings, including rice paper and corn husks, were added, with the intention of stretching out the amount of time it would take for the animal to chew down to the fish skin bandage. All these materials are safe to eat for the animals.

Rice paper and corn husks were added to make it harder for the bears to chew through their bandages. Image credits: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

“We expected the outer wrapping to eventually come off, but we hoped the tilapia would keep steady pressure on the wounds and serve as an artificial skin long enough to speed healing of the wounds underneath,” Peyton said.

Lastly, she also used acupuncture to aid the bear with pain management, a highly controversial technique. The validity of veterinary acupuncture has not yet been thoroughly proven, as systematic reviews in 2001, 2006, and 2009 all found insufficient evidence to support or disprove its efficiency. However, both the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) issued joint guidelines for the management of pain in cats and dogs, citing a “solid and still growing body of evidence for the use of acupuncture for the treatment of pain in veterinary medicine to the extent that it is now an accepted treatment modality for painful animals.”

Whether or not the acupuncture worked, the tilapia bandages seemed to do wonders, and this made a huge difference. An ultrasound revealed that one of the bears was pregnant, which meant that she needed to be reintroduced to the wild as soon as possible.

“That was a game changer for us, because we knew it wouldn’t be ideal for her to give birth in confinement,” Clifford said. “We aren’t really set up to have a birth at the lab holding facilities, and we knew there was a high probability that she could reject the cub, due to all the stress she was under. We needed to get her back into the wild as quickly as possible.”

The procedure was hailed a success and the bears were reintroduced into the wild, into a new habitat. Image credits: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Thankfully, aided by the innovative bandages, the healing process was quick enough to facilitate their release into the wild. A new habitat was found for them (as their old one had burned down). The cougar, which was younger and also had lighter burns, was also reintroduced to the wild. The entire project was hailed a success.

This effort could be even more significant in the future. As temperatures continues to rise and drought becomes more and more common in California, wildfires will also likely become more and more common.

“This treatment has the potential to be used successfully on all kind of burn patients, both domestic and wild,” said Dr. Deana Clifford, acting manager of the Wildlife Investigations Lab in Rancho, who first handled the bears.

“For us, at the Wildlife Investigations Lab, it’s been an invaluable experience because California’s changing climate means that we’re likely to see more wild animals impacted by catastrophic wildfires. By better understanding what resources are needed to care for injured wildlife and what treatment techniques increase healing speed, we can make the most informed treatment decisions, reduce animals’ time in captivity and provide guidance to other facilities caring for burned animals.”

Reconstruction of the mid-Pliocene Protarctos abstrusus in the Beaver Pond site area during the late summer. Credit: Art by Mauricio Antón.

Scientists find primitive 3.5-million-year old bear with a sweet tooth for berries

Reconstruction of the mid-Pliocene Protarctos abstrusus in the Beaver Pond site area during the late summer. Credit: Art by Mauricio Antón.

Reconstruction of the mid-Pliocene Protarctos abstrusus in the Beaver Pond site area during the late summer. Credit: Art by Mauricio Antón.

Two 3.5-million-year-old bears had a sweet tooth for berries. Paleontologists have discovered ancient teeth with cavities that serve as evidence.

“This is evidence of the most northerly record for primitive bears, and provides an idea of what the ancestor of modern bears may have looked like,” says Dr. Xiaoming Wang, lead author of the study and Head of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA).

“Just as interesting is the presence of dental caries, showing that oral infections have a long evolutionary history in the animals, which can tell us about their sugary diet, presumably from berries. This is the first and earliest documented occurrence of high-calorie diet in basal bears, likely related to fat storage in preparation for the harsh Arctic winters.”

A rare glimpse into High Arctic life

The international team of researchers excavated the ancient bear fossils belonging to Protarctos abstrusus at the Beaver Pond site on Ellesmere Island, Canada. This site is one of the few where fossils have been found in the Arctic, especially mammal fossils.

Unlike other sites down south where scientists can chisel fossils out of rock, at Beaver Pond you have to pick your way through layers of peat. The bones are usually fragmented from all the repeated cycles of freezing and thawing, and appear brown or iridescent blue in color due to the presence of a mineral called vivianite.

The first pieces of a bears skulls’ were found in the 1990s. During excavations over the last 14 years, paleontologists have recovered more fragments of the skull, a jaw, and other skeleton fragments. When the researchers pieced together the fragments, they found the pieces belonged to two bears. One was five to seven years old and the other was older. Both didn’t seem to brush their teeth, judging from the cavities.

“It is a significant find, in part because all other ancient fossil ursine bears, and even some modern bear species like the sloth bear and sun bear, are associated with lower-latitude, milder habitats,” says co-author Dr. Natalia Rybczynski, a Research Associate and paleontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature. “So, the Ellesmere bear is important because it suggests that the capacity to exploit the harshest, most northern forests on the planet is not an innovation of modern grizzlies and black bears, but may have characterized the ursine lineage from its beginning.”

Digital reconstruction of the Canadian Arctic fossil bear, Protarctos abstrusus. Credit: Xiaoming Wang.

Digital reconstruction of the Canadian Arctic fossil bear, Protarctos abstrusus. Credit: Xiaoming Wang.


Along with the fossils, scientists have found remains of raspberry, blueberry, lingonberry and crowberry plants. Their sweet berries likely helped the ancient bears hibernate through the polar winter, just like their modern cousins.

While Canada’s High Arctic doesn’t look all that hospitable nowadays, three and a half million years ago Beaver Pond was home to a boreal forest. It provided a home to a variety of animals like beavers, deer, and three-toed horses, to name a few.

A view of the Beaver Pond fossil site, with a number of the animals and plants based on fossils recovered from the site. Credit: George "Rinaldinho" Teichmann.

A view of the Beaver Pond fossil site, with a number of the animals and plants based on fossils recovered from the site. Credit: George “Rinaldinho” Teichmann.

In addition to being able to discern what some ancient bears had for breakfast — which is fascinating in its own right — scientists say the fossils also provide a missing link between primitive and modern bears. The findings suggest that bears were stuffing up on a high-sugar diet to hibernate very early in their evolutionary history. About 44 percent of modern black bears have cavities, which are very rare in other animals.

Protarctos abstrusus — a species first discovered in Idaho in 1970 — was able to reach up to 100 kilograms, making it a bit smaller than modern black bears. The two species are related but Protarctos abstrusus is not the direct ancestor of the black bear, which crossed into North America from Asia much later, during the last ice age.

Scientific reference: Xiaoming Wang et al, A basal ursine bear (Protarctos abstrusus) from the Pliocene High Arctic reveals Eurasian affinities and a diet rich in fermentable sugars, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-17657-8.

bear dog

Ancient ‘bear dog’ species found by accident in museum collection from Chicago

bear dog

Credit: Monica Jurik, The Field Museum

Millions of years ago, the plains of North America, Asia, and Europe were roamed by a peculiar group of carnivorous mammals known as the ‘bear dogs’. These animals came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and resembled both bears and dogs in some features, hence the name. While some species could grow as big as a lion or bear, some forty million years ago in what’s now Texas at least two species of bear dogs were far less impressive in stature. One is the size of a chihuahua while the other is no bigger than a housecat.

The two specimens were discovered three decades ago in rather poor conditions — mostly fossil fragments. Since then, the fossils had been gathering dust at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, until one day Susumu Tomiya, who is a vertebrate paleontologist working for the museum, studied them with a fresh eye.

“I had just started at the Field, and I was getting the lay of the land, exploring our collections. In one room of type specimens, the fossils used as a standard to describe their species, I stumbled across something that looked unusual,” he says. “There were beautiful jaws of a small carnivore, but the genus the specimen had been assigned to didn’t seem to fit some of the features on the teeth. It made me suspect that it belonged to a very different group of carnivores.”

Due to their poor condition, the two species had been previously misclassified being grouped in wrong genus and family. Tomiya noticed however that one of the specimens had upper teeth whose surfaces looked like they were meant for crushing. This suggests that the animals not only ate meat, as the previous classification suggested, but also berries or insects, much like a fox diet today. This hint spurred him to investigate further. He later noticed that another fossil carnivore from the same rock formation in Texas also had similar features.

Eventually, Tomiya enlisted the help of Jack Tseng of the University at Buffalo and together made a 3D reconstruction of one of the skulls which was still relatively intact. Using high-resolution X-ray CT scans, the team could see internal skull features otherwise invisible. These scans showed that the two species are actually ‘bear dogs’ or amphicyonid.

As such, the species had to be re-classified. The chihuahua-sized Miacis cognitus is now renamed Gustafsonia cognita (in honor of Eric Gustafson, who first described them), and Miacis australis is now known as Angelacrtocyon australis, meaning “messenger bear dog.”

Both lived 36 to 37 million years ago and although earlier fossils were found in Europe, the new fossils suggest that southern North America was an evolutionary hot spot for the bear dogs. Their lineage eventually went extinct several million years ago. It’s not clear why, but around the time bear dogs collapsed the climate became cooler and drier. Meanwhile, actual bears and canines appeared who may have been more adapted and eventually took their place in the ecological niche.

“Studying how the diversity of beardogs waxed and waned over time could tell us about larger patterns in carnivore evolution,” Tomiya added.

Findings appeared in Royal Society Open Science.

Unique friendship between wolf and bear documented by Finnish photographer

A female gray wolf and a male brown bear were spotted every day for ten consecutive days, spending time together, playing and even sharing food.

“It’s very unusual to see a bear and a wolf getting on like this” says Finnish photographer Lassi Rautiainen, 56, who took these surprising photos.

From what I could find, it’s actually the first time, at least in Europe, where such a friendship was developed.

“No-one can know exactly why or how the young wolf and bear became friends,” Lassi said in an interview. “I think that perhaps they were both alone and they were young and a bit unsure of how to survive alone…It is nice to share rare events in the wild that you would never expect to see.”

That’s as good a guess as any – there are no scientific studies on the matter, and these cases are extremely rare – especially in the wild. But it’s just so beautiful!

“It seems to me that they feel safe being together,” Lassi adds.

All image credits: Lassi Rautiainen

So you’ve come face to face with a bear; what should you do to bear through this?

They find puns unbearable.
Image via: tvbythenumbers.com

A Montana family came perilously close to a grizzly bear near Yellowstone Park in the US when it jumped on the hood of their car. The family stayed in their car, kept the windows closed, and eventually the bear got bored and wandered off. But what happens if you don’t have the safety of a vehicle?

Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity or a good food source, such as berry bushes. Groups of people are noisier and have a more powerful smell and bears can detect them at longer distances. They are also more intimidating to the animals, so try to hike in groups if possible.

If you come close enough to a bear that it notices you, and starts paying attention to you, help the bear recognize you as a human and not a pray animal. Slowly wave your arms and calmly talk to it. Most bears don’t want to attack you, but they are quite curious. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.

Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won’t be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal. Do not drop your pack, use it to protect your back, and do not allow the bear access to your food.

Bear attacks are rare; most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs, or their space. However, being mentally prepared can help you have the most effective reaction. So what should you do when you come close enough to a bear you can high-five it? (Disclaimer: ZME Science strongly advises against high-fiving bears unless you are attended by one of our authors).

We’re trained for survival in the wild. And for awesome.
Image via: article.wn.com

“Most bear encounters end without injury. Following some basic guidelines may help to lessen the threat of danger. Your safety can depend on your ability to calm the bear,” the NPS writes.

Always face the bear comrade, slowly back away and move sideways. You shouldn’t run, as this could trigger a chase response – and bears run fast. Climbing a tree is also a bad idea as most bears will simply follow you.

When the animal charges with its head low and ears pinned back, that is defensive aggression. It may see you as a threat to its cubs or it may be protecting food. A defensive bear will stop attacking once it feels the threat – namely, you – has been removed.

If the bear stalks you, persistently approaches, and is focused on you, with its head up and ears cocked forward, that is typically curious behavior, but may be indicative of predatory intent.

This bear is quite interested in whatever you are doing. And maybe in how tasty you are.
Image via: morganbond.blogspot.com

Should the bear charge you during a surprise encounter, stand your ground and fight back with bear spray, sticks or rocks. Make sure you know how to properly use the spray. Always fight back if a bear attacks you in your tent or stalks you and then attacks. This last kind of attack is very rare, but can be serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and sees you as prey.

If you are attacked by a brown or grizzly bear, play dead. Leave your pack on and lay flat on your stomach. Clasp your hands behind your neck and spread your legs to make it harder for it to turn you over, and remain still until the bear leaves the area. If the attack persists, fight back vigorously. In the case of black bears, do not play dead! Try to escape to a safe place, such as a car or building. Only fight back if escape is not possible, using any object available.

Should you fight a bear, focus your blows on the animal’s face and muzzle.

Bears are solitary creatures for most of the year, and they just want to be left alone to eat. If you see the bear from afar, take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Try to always leave the bear an escape route, and never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The risk of an attack escalates quickly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs, or if the animal feels cornered.





Researchers look at hibertnating bears for the first time

Bears are some of the most amazing and loved animals out there, and to find out that up until a few months ago nobody made a thorough study about their hibernating was really sad for me. Until this, almost everything we knew about hibernating was that… well, bears do it’; they go into their dens and come out a few months after that looking a whole lot skinnier, and of course, hungrier.

But researchers from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Stanford University weren’t satisfied with just that, so they set on a quest to find out the details of this long winter sleep that bears do; in order to understand it, they studied five bears that had been caught by local authorities wandering too close to civiliziation. It was really important and hard to find such specimens, because when in captivity, their natural cycles get all mixed up, so studying them shows little scientific information, and as for wild ones… you never should wake a sleeping bear – even if you work at Stanford.

These five bears were kept in specially designed dens that had infrared cameras, and they “showed” researchers that during hibernation, the bears’ metabolic level drops to 25%, even though their body temperature goes down way less. During the theoretical 5 months of hibernating, they do not eat, drink or defecate – all they need is air. What good could this do for humans ?

‘If you could reduce the metabolic demand of people, it’ll be favourable either during surgery or as a quick response during heart attack or stroke or trauma,’ Barnes said. ‘What that would do is give you more time. We like to say it would potentially expand the ‘golden hour’ – during which, if you reach advanced medical care, outcomes are better – to a golden day or a golden week.’

It does show great promise indeed, but researchers have yet to figure out how do bears lower their metabolism to such drastic rates. Another more interesting, but even more speculative use for this research would be long distance space travel, because with our current means and what we have in sight, even traveling to Mars will take a really long time.

Lion, Tiger and Bear share impressing friendship


They’ve known each other basically all their lives, but the early days weren’t happy at all. Found during a police raid at the home of a drug lord, Leo, Shere Khan and Baloo tied an extremely unusual bond.

They now live their peaceful lives together in the habitat built specifically for them at Noah’s Ark rescue center in Locust Grove, Ga., where they can even go out for a swim in the creek near their… house.

“To our knowledge, this is the only place where you’ll find this combination of animals together, they are our BLT, (bear, lion and tiger),” said Diane Smith, assistant director of the zoo at Noah’s Ark.

“It is wonderful and magical to see a giant American black bear put his arm around a Bengal tiger and then to see the tiger nuzzle up to the bear like a domestic cat. When Leo wakes up, the three of them mess around for most of the day before they settle down to some food.”