Vancouver – Grizzly bears seem to support slower sloping or flat paths than people commonly use, which could affect land management practices in the wild, says an expert who wrote an article on their travel patterns.
One of the reasons people encounter bears on the trek may be because they prefer the same routines as humans, said Gordon Steinhaus, a researcher at the Foodhills Research Institute in Alberta.
He said in an interview that the study, which was recently published in the journal Experimental Biology, could be used by resource-based industries, especially in areas such as forestry, oil and gas research in Alberta.
“Grizzly bears are changing their operating systems and habitat in response to seasonal food resources, human recreation – hiking, camping, hunting – grazing and road use, as well as a variety of environmental references,” the study said.
Anthony Carnahan, a doctoral candidate at Washington State University, led the study.
Stenhouse said the study will help understand which areas bears use, how fast they move, how to protect those areas and avoid collisions with animals.
“Bears make decisions on a number of factors, of course, you know, bears are just as easily navigable as people,” he said.
Changes in the landscape caused by humans raise questions about how bears are affected, he said. “For example, when we harvest forests, when bears walk there, do they burn more or less energy, or how do they travel?”
Scientists at the Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center at Washington State University trained nine captive animals to walk on different slopes on a treadmill to study the bearish desirable slopes and energy expended. Bears range in age from two to 15 years and weigh 91 to 265 kilograms.
The researchers measured the bears’ oxygen levels and counted the calories they consumed while walking on the treadmill for six minutes. Four kilometers at the preferred speed was 10 percent up or down. However, the bears in Yellowstone National Park are equipped with GPS collars that are comfortable at speeds of up to two kilometers per hour.
Stenhouse said changes in a bear’s behavior are related to how they feed for food.
“Grizzly sleeps from noon to five in the morning, they wake up. Then they start moving, when they move, they look for the environment, they see what food they can find,” he said.
“They can find some kind of berry or some root to dig up and then they come around their home range. Basically, they feed when they walk.”
They may explode with energy when they hunt a deer, but not many of those moments.
Grizzly said the data help to understand the movement of bears, their land use, energy expended and the nutrients they need, which is ultimately important for the long-term survival of the species, he said.
“Putting a grizzly bear on a treadmill is not your normal thing,” Steinhouse said.
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“Some may laugh and think this is fun, but the overall goal is to allow for better administrative practices and ensure safety.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 11, 2021.