Monday, January 25, 2016

Shocking Bear Video

Grizzly bear facing a shocking carcass - Montana Grizzly Research
Bears are among the most intelligent mammals.  Some have suggested they are as intelligent as a 3 year old child.  It is at that point that we have to separate intelligence from trained performance.  Obviously a child can perform far more tasks as they grow and are trained.

Sophisticated studies have shown some limited numerical abilities of bears.  This was demonstrated by captive bears using touch screens with their noses.  They could be trained to make a selection based on the limited number of dots on the screen.  (If the bear used its paw the researchers would have gone through a lot of touch screens). 

Does this translate to bears in the wild?  Children don't start out life with counting and language skills.  Teaching a child requires their concentration and avoiding distractions.  Likewise the bear needs to focus.
"What's most interesting is that this level of intelligence and cognitive reasoning is not often observed among bears in the wild. A possible explanation for this is that a bear in the wild is so driven by the single-minded purpose of survival and finding enough food before the onset of winter that the full scope of what they're capable of must often take a backseat to wild instinct. Researchers like Else Poulsen and Doug Seus have shown that when a bear is kept in captivity, well-fed, cared for, and given a stress-free life, the other side of their nature becomes more apparent and takes precedence over instinct."  Where the Bear Walks
It is frequently hard to separate intelligent behavior from random chance as described in this blog.  Dave Shanholzer sent me this video of a grizzly bear faced with a carcass wired to shock it.  The bear's response looks to be the result of tenacity and an accidental solution.  It would be interesting to see what its response would be if tested with several more carcasses.  Would it "know" to disconnect the battery first?  Who knows?

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