Posted: Oct 24, 2012 3:21 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
Updated: Oct 24, 2012 3:26 PM
PULLMAN - Most of us Montanans are mainly worried about running across a grizzly in a bad mood. A researcher at Washington State University is doing her best this year to find out what makes grizzly bears "happy."
Doctoral student Heidi Keen has been working for months now at WSU's Bear Research Center to study "animal enrichment", a branch of research that was started by zoo keepers back in the 1970s to study animal's moods and behaviors.
However, Keen's subjects are a little larger than most, studying eight grizzlies using tools like flash cards, orange construction cones and cow hides. She's trying to not just study behavior, but the reasons behind bears do what they do.
And the results of the research so far provide some insights you wouldn't find out during that sudden encounter with a grizzly in the Glacier backcountry.
For example, the WSU team has already figured out that grizzlies are mainly right-handed, or right-pawed, and are able to close open gates. Keen also learned early on to always wear sunglasses when using the flash cards because the bears would study her face and not respond to the card.
She says grizzlies are full of personality and smarts, with each of the six females and two males exhibiting different traits as they respond to the cutting edge research. Keen hopes her research will not only help with interactions between bears and humans through grizzly bear management, but also captive animals in general.