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The Minds of Bears - UPDATE October 8, 2021

320 and cub in den 3-21-71320 and cub in den 3-21-71I like watching bears work. It’s a chance to see how their minds work. It’s hard to know whether my interpretations reflect their actual thoughts, but it is obvious they are sentient beings that can learn, remember, and accomplish some thought processes better than humans. Probably the best example of that was seeing Big Mac navigate home 126 miles by a different, more direct route than he had taken to a place he had very likely never been before. Another example was a cub following her mother (Bear 320) some 23 miles to a 5-acre oak stand in 1971 and returning to it as an adult 3 years later. Her brother also returned to that stand as an adult. 320’s offspring were the only bears from my study area to use that stand. The picture is of 320 and one of these cubs in a den on March 21, 1971. This den was a secure burrow. Female 320, with her knowledge of distant food sources, was one of the stars of that study until she used a less secure den in 1977 and was killed at the age of 15 by a pack of 9 wolves in February 1977.

I liked watching this 9-minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiffWRmQv5g of Tasha renovating the rock den she used last winter at the North American Bear Center. This den is Tasha’s to use this winter once again after Holly again usurped the den Tasha dug a year ago. The video by "Taught" shows her digging away, sitting back and looking at her work, and digging some more. Is she just resting when she pauses? Or does the fact that she looks at her work mean she is evaluating it and deciding what she needs to do next? I don’t know what she has in mind for this den, so it’s hard to know what she is thinking when she pauses and then digs in again.

It reminded me of 3-year-old June creating a den in July 2004 where she would give birth to Pete and George that January (2005). https://vimeo.com/125760391 As she dug, she ran into a 68-pound boulder. Instead of simply wrestling the rock out, she readied the entrance for the big move and rolled the rock up the ramp she created.

Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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