RCG Current Project Descriptions
Brown bear in Mongolia
Important RCG Links

Projects are listed alphabetically using the name of the individual principally responsible for the project.  Most of this information is taken directly from the authors’ summaries. 

Information on the RC grants awarded prior to 2014 as well as the early history of the program is available in a downloadable article published in Ursus.  To see a copy click here>>>.

RCG Project Descriptions for 2014 Grants

Crudge, B., M. Brocklehurst, & L. Scotson - Free the Bears. Award: $15,000 USD with $7,500 held pending annual review.  This project is our first commitment to multi-year funding of a project with annual review.

Snare collection and conservation of bears in Nam Kan National Protected Area, Lao PDR.

The conservation project proposed here is a joint initiative between Bokeo Provincial Office of Natural Resource and Environment (PONRE), the Department of Forest Inspection (DOFI), the NGO Free the Bears (FTB), and the National University of Laos (NUoL) to improve the conservation of Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) in Nam Kan National Protected Area (NPA). The project will continue work conducted by Free the Bears in 2012 and 2013, which supported forest ranger patrols and established a community snare collection team. The project is designed to militate against novel hunting methods discovered during a bear sign survey in N am Kan NPA in 2012. Following the discovery of snareline fences, targeting bears and other large mammals, it was recommended that strong action be taken to prevent this practice from continuing. Developing involvement in and commitment to the program in local communities is an important additional objective.

Ditmer, M.,Ph.D. candidate & Drs. J. Vincent, L. Werden, & D. Burge, University of Minnesota.  Award: $2,500 USD.

Evaluating the feasibility of unmanned aerial vehicle technology for monitoring and observing free-ranging bears.

We propose to conduct original research utilizing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology to remotely monitor and gather behavioral observations of free-roaming American black bears (Ursus americanus) in northwestern Minnesota. We plan to utilize a low-cost and readily available autonomous quadcopter to follow and record high definition video of radio-collared bears. With this platform, we will be able to document bear behavior in an undisturbed manner. The collared bears are part of a larger collaborative study between the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the University of Minnesota Medical School, and Medtronic Incorporated. This research focuses on determining how bears alter their behavior when living in a highly-fragmented and agricultural landscape. Bears in this study were outfitted with GPS collars starting in 2007 and have had subcutaneous cardiac biologgers inserted to record their heart rate continuously throughout the year. We plan to incorporate UAVs into this ongoing research program in three ways: 1) We will collect video of bear behavior in a manner which does not influence natural behavior. 2) We will combine this video footage with GPS locations from collared bears to better understand the connection between movement data and behavior. 3) We will test the feasibility of using UAVs to track and monitor threatened or endangered species by investigating whether our methods cause stress in the monitored individual (i.e. Do we see a spike in heart rate values when we monitor bears with UAVs?).

Evans, M., Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut, & Dr. T. Rittenhouse, with J. Hawley, & P. Rego, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  Award: $10,000 USD.

Density Indices from Photographic Data for Management of Black Bears in Connecticut.

The proposed project will develop non-invasive methods for estimation of black bear (Ursus americanus) densities using encounter data produced by remote wildlife cameras. The recent re-establishment and expansion of a bear population in Connecticut has precipitated the need for the stateʼs Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to develop a comprehensive bear management plan for the state. The most critical tool needed is a cost- effective and easily implemented method to monitor the abundance and density of bears. In collaboration with DEEP, we are conducting a genetic mark-recapture project to provide the first estimate of statewide bear densities in Connecticut. However, continued population estimation via genetic sampling will be unfeasible. The validation and refinement of recent models estimating wildlife densities from photo-encounter rates has the potential to provide a more viable monitoring tool. Our established genetic sampling grid provides a framework to compare photo-based population estimates with those obtained from genetic data, thus providing a validated foundation for future bear population monitoring via a photo index. In the first of two full field seasons (June through August 2013) we obtained 179 black bear photo events from 49 remote cameras at hair sampling sites, as well as 407 bear hair samples from 147 total sites. We are requesting $10,000 to purchase 50 additional cameras to extend the collection of photographic data to additional sampling areas. This expanded sampling will enable validation of models across a wider range of both bear and human density in Connecticut, and allow model accuracy to be assessed through cross-validation. This project will provide local wildlife managers with a monitoring protocol needed to fully implement adaptive bear management, and will advance the capacity of non-invasive monitoring methods to provide robust estimates of important population parameters for individually indistinguishable species.

Kleiner, J., Masters student at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences at Ås, Norway & Dr. X. Velez-Liendo.  Award: $3,326 USD.

Territorial Tree Marking Preferences of Andean bears (Tremarctos ornatus) of the Bolivian Dry Forest

The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is vulnerable to extinction across their range in the Andes (Goldstein et al., 2008). Despite their charismatic qualities and vulnerability, T. ornatus remains one of the least known species of Ursidae. One area in particular that has received very little attention is the bears’ marking behavior. Previous studies carried out on brown bear (Ursus arctos) have shown bears mark on trees most likely to advertise their presence (Clapham et al., 2013). To date there has been no long‐term study conducted on the intra‐specific marking behavior of Andean bears. In this study, we test the hypothesis that Andean bears; show preference for leaving marks in areas highly visited for food or mates; and on certain species of tree that could increase the likelihood of intra‐specific communication. This study will be carried out in the dry forest of Tarija, Pilaya River, Bolivia, central point (20°55'44.47"S, 64°42'47.94"O). Very little research has been carried out on T. ornatus in this region, and understanding where Andean bears mark can help design effective population monitoring programs.

Ladle, A., Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta,& Dr. M. Boyce.  Award: $9,250 USD.

Human access management in west-central Alberta: Influence of recreational use on the movement and behaviour of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos).

The primary recommendation laid out by the Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan1 is the reduction of human-caused grizzly bear mortality through human access management in high-quality bear habitats. Quantifying recreational use of access routes and associated responses in bear behavior gives important insights into human-bear conflict and means of mitigating any negative impact on grizzly bears. Since May 2010, trail cameras have been deployed in the mountains and foothills surrounding Cadomin in west-central Alberta to monitor frequency of human, ungulate and carnivore use of several trail types. At present, 80 cameras are deployed over a 5,000km2 region gathering all-year-round data on a range of recreational use types and all species of large mammals, including grizzly bear. Concurrent GPS data on satellite-collared bears within the study region (8 in 2011, 6 in 2012, 6 in 2013) provide information on grizzly bear movement and habitat selection. Using human-use camera data, high-resolution imagery, and state of the art GIS techniques, this project aims to build a model predicting recreational use of trails. These data will be incorporated into a statistical modeling framework alongside grizzly bear movement data and additional explanatory variables (food distribution, topography etc.) to assess how grizzly bear movement and habitat use is altered in response to varying levels of recreational use. This information will allow us to identify human- use thresholds that can be incorporated into future management policy aimed at improving grizzly bear habitat and maintaining connectivity across the Eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Morehouse, A., Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta,& Dr. M. Boyce.  Award: $6,000 USD.

Evaluating the efficacy of intercept feeding in reducing spring grizzly bear (Ursus arctos)-ranching conflicts.

Southwestern Alberta is a ranching landscape characterized by an abrupt change in topography where the mountains meet the prairies. The human population abuts public forestry lands; homes and ranches lie on the edge of the mountains, and within the geographical ranges of several large carnivores. This high degree of overlap means there are more chances for human wildlife conflict here than elsewhere in the province. Carnivore-ranching conflicts in this region of Alberta are attributable primarily to wolves and grizzly bears, and the number of conflicts involving these species is increasing (Morehouse and Boyce 2011, Northrup and Boyce 2012). Most conflicts with grizzly bears are related to agriculture, and the largest single source of conflicts is attractants (Northrup and Boyce 2012).

Agricultural conflicts with grizzly bears tend to increase in the spring and fall when bears are seeking high protein food sources. Carrion is an important spring food resource for grizzly bears (Servheen 1983) and grizzly bear ranching conflicts are correlated with spring calving pastures (Wilson et al. 2005). To reduce spring conflicts with grizzly bears, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) slings road-killed ungulate carcasses via helicopter to locations where bears are likely to encounter them upon emergence from their dens - thereby “intercepting” bears and keeping them off private lands during the livestock- calving season. The program was initiated in 1998 and while bear use of the sites is known, the effectiveness in reducing spring conflicts remains unknown. Because grizzly bear population density is affected by the availability of high-quality food sources (McLellan 2011), the intercept feeding program might be inflating the sustainable grizzly bear population. Carrion is an important spring food resource for grizzly bears (Servheen 1983), and the proportion of meat in a grizzly bearʼs diet is correlated with body mass, litter size, and population density (Hilderbrand et al. 1999). Bears from outside the study area in search of high-quality food resources might be attracted to the intercept-feeding sites inflating the local grizzly bear density.

Further, because of the potential for non-parental infanticide, female grizzly bears with cubs might alter their habitat selection patterns to avoid infanticide by males (Steyaert et al. 2013). Female grizzly bears with cubs sometimes avoid aggregated food sources where the potential for sexually selected infanticide might be higher (Steyaert et al. 2013). Thus, females with cubs might avoid the intercept-feeding sites, choosing safety over high- quality food resources, potentially pushing them onto lower- elevation areas in search of food where their potential for conflict is higher – which could be especially problematic if conflict behaviour is a learned behaviour taught by mothers to their offspring. Anecdotally, local Fish and Wildlife Officers have noticed an increase in family groups involved in conflicts.

Pagano, A., Ph.D. student at U.California Santa Cruz, & Drs. T. Williams, & E. Peacock.  Award: $5,000 USD.

The effects of declining sea ice on polar bear behaviors and energetic rates.

Recent declines in polar bear (Ursus maritimus) body condition, survival, and population size have been linked to declines in sea ice. Increased energy expenditure from changing sea ice conditions may be the underlying cause of these declines, but little is known about the behaviors and energetic demands of polar bears. This study is using accelerometers to remotely identify polar bear behaviors and estimate energetic rates. In 2013, we deployed GPS satellite collars with accelerometers on ten wild adult female polar bears. To interpret behaviors in the wild polar bear accelerometer data, accelerometers need to be calibrated on captive bears. We applied accelerometer collars to two captive adult female polar bears and two captive adult female brown bears and videotaped bears to link behaviors with the accelerometer data. We plan to estimate the energetic costs of these behaviors by measuring oxygen consumption of captive polar bears while resting, walking, and swimming. Additionally, we plan to use doubly- labeled water and camera collars on a small number of wild adult female polar bears as an independent measure of metabolic rates and behavior, respectively. We will use these data to both identify the behaviors of wild adult female polar bears and estimate the energetic costs of these behaviors. We will then link these behaviors and energetic rates to specific habitats based on GPS location data to understand how polar bear behaviors and energy expenditures are being affected by climate change. The results from this work will be used by the U.S. Geological Survey to update models forecasting the distribution and abundance of global polar bear populations under scenarios of a changing climate. Funds provided by the IBA in 2013 were vital to our ability to collect the captive data needed for this study.

Sharp, T., K. Satyanarayan, & G. Seshamani - Wildlife S.O.S.  Award: $3,545 USD.

Sloth bear attack behavior and a behavioral approach to safety.

Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) are known for their potential to behave aggressively towards humans. Sloth bears were responsible for 48 human deaths and 687 maulings between the years 1989 and 1994 in a single Indian State (Rajpurohit and Krausman 2000). The total number of sloth bear caused casualties and deaths that occur in India is unknown though the annual number of casualties likely approaches 1,000. Previous studies on sloth bear attacks have focused largely on the time of day that the attacks occur, the season in which the majority of attacks occur, and the activity that the individuals were engaged in at the time when attacked. However, when a person has an encounter with a wild sloth bear, there is little advice on how one should react. People who live in sloth bear habitat do not have access to bear spray or guns for protection. A behavioral approach to sloth bear safety largely based on the work done by Stephen Herrero could potentially save human lives and consequently bear lives, since bears are often killed in retaliation after an attack. I have developed multiple bear safety plans for working in Alaska and bear country in general and am familiar with the work. We intend to use the combination of four methods of studying sloth bear attack behavior: literature review of sloth bear attacks and behavior, interviews with people that encountered wild sloth bears, videotaping sloth bear behavior in the Wildlife SOS (WSOS) sanctuaries, and comparing the findings to those of other well studied bear species. Eventually our goal is to put together a training course based on the results of this study.

Drs. B. Weckworth, Yanlin Liu, Zhi Lu, & Hang Yin.  Award: $10,000 USD.

Brown bear ecology and human conflict on the Tibetan Plateau, China.

Very little research has been done on endangered Tibetan brown bears (Ursus arctos pruinosus). Throughout their range on the Tibetan Plateau, human-bear conflicts are increasing. Yet, the significant knowledge gaps on even their basic ecology and behavior often preclude setting assertive conservation and management objectives. Our study area in the Suojia township (Fig 1; E 92.705206 to 92.722028 – N33.593813 to 34.430169), of the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (SNNR), has experienced severe human-bear conflict over the past 6 years. This proposal is for a research project to study both Tibetan brown bear ecology and the related human-bear conflict. In 2011, in response to worsening human-bear conflict, we initiated a pilot project to assess the feasibility for a research program that would address these issues. Knowledge of bear movements is paramount for developing conflict solutions, therefore we collared two bears (one female, one male) using GPS-satellite phone technology. We began household interviews throughout the region to understand the herdersʼ perspectives on the problems, and in the last year we have set up experimental bear-proof electric fencing at some households. Additionally, we have conducted surveys using camera traps and scat analysis to determine activity patterns and diet, respectively. Preliminary results (detailed below) demonstrate the success of our methods and are revealing promising insights into Tibetan brown bear ecology, however, it is clear that larger sample sizes and more robust data collection is necessary. We are requesting $15,000 from IBA to support our Tibetan brown bear and human-wildlife conflict work in China. Results from this work will inform efforts aimed at reducing human-bear conflict. In addition, this bear work fits into our greater objectives to study and understand inter-species relationships within the carnivore guild of the Tibetan Plateau and advise conservation and human-wildlife conflict programs.

Wong, P. Ph.D. Candidate, University of Toronto, P. van Coeverden de Groot, R. Murphy, & D. McGregor.  Award: $10,000

Integrating Inuit traditional knowledge and telomere quantification toward novel methods of aging polar bears.

My research contributes to novel, noninvasive methods of monitoring polar bears (Ursus maritimus) by integrating genetic techniques with Inuit traditional knowledge of polar bear characteristics. My masterʼs work documented consistency in Inuit estimates of polar bear sex, age, and body size from tracks, revealing accuracy in sex and size estimates based on agreement with genetic sex estimates of associated hair samples and stride length measurements of tracks, respectively. My interviews with 3 Inuit communities in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut also revealed shared techniques in estimating polar bear characteristics that may relate to accuracy in diagnoses. The lack of external age estimates associated with track diagnoses precluded inferences on accuracy in Inuit estimates of age. Building on this work, my proposed research will: a) optimize a telomere restriction fragment quantification technique to determine feasibility in using telomeres—DNA sequences that shorten with cell division—to estimate age from polar bear tissues; b) identify potential overlaps between Inuit and genetic methods of aging by documenting Inuit methods of aging across communities in the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut; and c) characterize telomeres in grizzly bears for inferences on whether these research methods are applicable to other bear taxa. This project will contribute to my doctoral thesis; the requested $10 000 will partially cover field expenses required to collect polar bear samples. The results of this research will directly inform forthcoming biopsy-based surveys conducted by the Government of Nunavut.