For the most part, a black bear “sees” with its nose. After sniffing out this red pine, this bear is leaving footprints, warning other bears that this turf is taken.
Kilham releases some bears with radio-telemetry collars. Signals sent from the collars help him find bears any time of the year and greatly assist his research.
BEN KILHAM PHOTOS
been marked by bears, and over a 24- hour period, found that the tree was a virtual neon sign for bears, advertis- ing the nearby feeding place.
He found that as many as six bears were visiting the tree during that time, checking out who had been there, what they had been eating and when they were there (because the odor dissipates over time).
The People’s Bears
“He has learned a lot of things about the behavior of black bears that you won’t find in the literature,” said Kip Adams, Fish and Game’s bear project leader. “And the more we know about their behavior, the better we can manage them.”
Kilham’s finding that bears will communicate information about food sources has many implications. For one thing, it shows that trapping and relocating trouble bears is sometimes ineffective. The trapped bear may still get into trouble elsewhere, and meanwhile, other bears may continue visiting the original site if there’s still food available. Ultimately, Kilham’s finding underscores the importance of keeping human food away from black bears, Adams said.
At the outset of Kilham’s project,
Fish and Game Department officials had concerns that the bears may become habituated to humans and may essentially lose their wildness. But so far, they’ve been satisfied.
“These bears are a public resource
they belong to the people of New
likely toicause trouble withld be wild,” Adams said. “From what we’ve seen so far, the bears he’s released seem pretty wild. If I try to approach one in the woods without Ben being present, that bear would be gone. It wouldn’t let me get near.”
And so far, the bears Kilham has released haven’t seemed any less or more humans than ordinary bears, Adams said.
Another benefit is that Kilham has focused a lot of attention on black bears, their behavior and on ways that people can avoid conflicts with them. Aside from the media attention on Kilham’s work, he has spoken to many groups around the state, showing them slides, answering questions and debunking myths about bears.
“One of the major things I’m able to say during these talks is that black bears are not as solitary as we thought they were,” Kilham said. “They’re
very much social and cooperative animals.”
As for the future, Kilham hopes his work will benefit endangered bear species, such as giant pandas. His findings and techniques for studying black bears may help refine research on the world’s rare bears.
Meanwhile, Kilham plans to continue the research and keep looking for higher levels of coopera- tion among bears.
“I’ll keep going,” he said. “There are still a lot of unanswered ques- tions.” ■
“They’re very much social and cooperative animals.”
PHOTO/NETWO K PUBLICATIONS