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Holly and a Flashback - UPDATE January 5, 2015

June - July 30, 2012June - July 30, 2012A frozen lock and other problems delayed removing the snow from Holly’s Den Cam until tomorrow. We’re anxious to see more than snow.

The 75-second flashback of June from July 12, 2007 shows lunging behavior that has never proved dangerous https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywt0xfr5PdQ. Yes, it can be startling and make us wonder what a bear is thinking. It is just an expression of the bear’s own nervousness about situations they don’t understand. The more time we spend with a bear the less nervous behavior we see.

When bears show this behavior toward someone with a gun, they are likely to get shot and spur more stories of black bear ferocity. By not carrying guns and letting behaviors play out, we have learned these lunges are harmless, no matter how bad they look. None of us has ever had a bear come after us and hurt us. This harmless behavior is part of what makes people fear bears and kill them. People won’t coexist with animals they fear.

In Sue’s case in this flashback, it appeared that June wanted to walk toward and past Sue but had a moment of doubt. June expressed her nervousness with a harmless lunge before calmly walking past Sue. In lunging toward Sue, June lunged against bushes. Incorporating bushes or some other object into this type of harmless display is nearly always the case. Perhaps the shaking bushes and rustling leaves emphasize the action. I remember a bear lunging toward another bear and wanting to incorporate an object into the display—which turned out to be my leg. From behind me, a mature female lunged against my leg as part of her display toward a bear we both were watching. She was calm and trusting with me. I was just an object to be used. No harm done, and the bear we were watching ran away.

Back in the old days (the 1980’s) when we didn’t touch the bears we walked with, the bears were more nervous about walking toward us. Consequently, we saw more lunges than in our current studies. But even in the old days, we learned to just step aside and let the bear go through without any problems. These harmless displays are simply communication. A little dramatic, but simple communication, nevertheless. Once we began using touch, the universal language, as part of building trust, the bears accepted us with less nervous behavior (although many never began to accept us at all out in the woods).

In tonight’s flashback, who knows what triggered June’s brief nervousness—an odd smell? Something unusual about Sue’s behavior, her clothing, the smell of another bear on her, something unrelated that had happened recently? In a somewhat similar case, a bear lunged at a researcher who wore perfume for the first time in the bear’s presence, likely confusing the bear about her identity.

Not all bear-walkers stayed the course. Learning to trust is as hard for some humans as it is for some bears. Some don’t achieve it in either species. Sue stayed the course. June grew to trust her, and Sue to trust June. One clue to the depth of that trust showed in Sue’s reaction to the lunge. Her camera remained steady. Sue maintained her low angle as June calmly walked past her. Mutual trust between research partners.

We hope Holly’s den cam will show more than snow tomorrow.

Thank you for all you do.

Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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