So many animals are bigger and stronger and have sharper parts than humans. But we take comfort in our advantages: our opposable thumbs and our big brains that allow us to use tools and cleverness to defend ourselves. Cleverness like, say, hanging our food at the end of a long rope to keep bears from getting it when we're camping.
Or so we thought:
PULLMAN, MT — It may no longer be good enough to hang your food in a tree to keep it away from bears when you go camping, according to a first-of-its-kind study at the Washington State University Bear Research Education and Conservation Center.
Some — but not all — grizzlies can use primitive tools to thwart your efforts.
The study’s participants are eight grizzly bears — five males and three females — who are challenged to get their paws on a glazed doughnut hung out of reach in their play area on the WSU campus.
Researchers place a sawed-off tree stump below the hanging treat to see if the animals will stand on it to reach the object of their desire. Once they do, the stump is turned on its side and moved away from the treat. Researchers observe whether the bears will move it back under the doughnut.
So far, researchers have identified one bear — a 9-year-old female — who has become the star of the show.
Kio, who was born in the center in 2005, has sailed through the tasks, while others are still discovering the basics.
“She manipulates an inanimate object in several steps to help her achieve a goal, which in this case is to obtain food. This fits the definition of tool use,” Nelson said.From the researchers' description of the value of the findings, they're clearly the usual sort of experts who aren't clear whose side they're on. Sure, they say that understanding how bears think may help us solve "bear-related problems." But they're obviously really more interested in bear-centric issues: “Being able to problem solve allows for a species to ‘think outside the box’ so to speak. This may be important if habitat and food resources change.”
And apparently the average person is no better. Rather than being berated for setting up a study that helps bears learn to defeat fundamental human defenses, here's the complaint they have to address:
"People often don’t like to see us feeding the bears sweets such as doughnuts,” she said. “I really appreciate that and I am glad that people care. We do give sweets as special treats, but not as a major part of their diet.”