Study demonstrates remarkable bear smarts
Grizzly bears may not carry a hammer or a screwdriver but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to use tools. A study done by researchers at WSU’s Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center has revealed a clever brain behind all that burliness.
While the center’s scientists often see evidence of bears manipulating objects to get what they want— including using a single claw in a key-like manner to try to open locks— this is the first formal study of grizzly bears’ ability to use tools.
Researchers placed a sawed-off tree stump below a glazed donut hanging from a wire to see if the grizzlies would stand on the stump to reach the treat. (Donuts are not part of the bears’ regular diet so are considered a true indulgence.) Then researchers rolled the stump away and things got really challenging. Each bear had to move the stump back underneath the dangling donut, flip over the stump, climb onto it and reach for the pastry.
Though six out of eight bears accomplished this feat, a 9-year-old female named Kio became the star of the show by sailing through each of the phases faster than the other bears.
This sort of primitive tool use demonstrates that grizzlies possess creative problem-solving and cognitive-thinking skills, WSU’s researchers concluded. A better understanding of how grizzlies think can help reduce encounters that could turn deadly for bears and humans alike.