Ursus Among Us | It’s scary when bears ‘bluff’
Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series, find the first installment at https://www.sierrasun.com/article/20121012/COMMUNITY/121019959&parentprofile=searchTAHOE CITY – Recap: The Gatekeeper’s Museum’s Ursus Among Us: The American Black Bear in the Tahoe Basin exhibit, now open, presents information about black bears around two historical themes: basin black bears as wild animals, and people and bears from ancient Washoe times through today.The history of bears as wild animals includes three research video clips: wild bears from birth through their first year “eating in the wild,” and communication, including “bluff charge” behavior, in both a tiny cub and an adult.The communication clip is important because it shows that this behavior – blowing air out forcefully while slapping at what scares them – is innate. Bears do this from infancy. Why is that important? It helps us realize bears react this way without thinking: It’s not personal. That may not help if it’s in your kitchen and it’s you of which the bear is afraid. The blowing is scary; the slapping could injure if you’re too close, thanks to long, sharp claws. The bear can hurt you even if it’s not trying to.The video profiling eating is only 15 minutes, but after watching you’ll be amazed they don’t eat cars. They walk through their day as Brian Barton describes, asking one question: “Can I eat it?” Perhaps the most startling is a bear eating ant pupae in a dead tree. When ants become hard to reach, the bear bites into the tree, then uses its claws to peel a longitudinal chunk of bark off, exposing the pupae within. It’s hard to miss tearing into most houses would be easier.In researching for the exhibit, some important truths presented themselves: 1. Bears are wild animals. Like all animals, individual bears have individual personalities. Just as dogs differ – both among breeds and within the same breed – bears differ. They will never all behave exactly the same.2. Bears get scared easily. Generally, their first reaction is to flee – most often up a tree – or bluff charge. They don’t think before doing this: they’re scared.3. Bears don’t understand property rights. We’re so used to the idea, we don’t even think about it. We’re outraged when someone damages property: it is wrong. But bears don’t get that: to them our property is a collection of containers that might, just might, be full of something they can eat. 4. Bears don’t realize a house is a house. Once inside, the only escape they know of is where they came in. We understand doors and windows can be exits: they don’t usually know that. If they’re trying to get out in a hurry, they’re heading for the way they came in. 5. Combine No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 and you’ll realize if you encounter a bear in your house, and you’re between it and the way it came in, you could get hurt if it blows, swats and runs for it. It wouldn’t necessarily be attacking you per se; it would be scared and trying to get the heck out. But you would still be hurt. Next week: The history of bears and people in the basin, and exhibit elements in progress.The Gatekeeper’s Museum is located 130 West Lake Blvd. by the “Y” in Tahoe City. Visit http://www.northtahoemuseums.org or call 530-583-1762 for information.- Marguerite Sprague is the executive director of the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society and has a bachelor’s degree in biology with an animal behavior emphasis.
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