RCG Current Project Descriptions
Brown bear in Mongolia

RCG Project Descriptions for 2015 Grants

Population Trends, Bear Poaching, and Bear Farming in China.  William J. McShea and David Garshelis. Project no. IBA 2014-15 12.

Project summary: The bear family is one of the most threatened mammalian families in the world (Schipper et al. 2008).  Each bear species faces a number of threats, but only one — the Asiatic black bear — is threatened principally by commercial poaching for parts.  The market for parts of Asiatic black bears is centred in China; this country also comprises more than half the range of this species.  Asiatic black bears are most coveted for the bile in their gallbladders, which is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has proven medicinal qualities. The Chinese have developed a large and profitable industry to farm and extract bile from live bears; they assert that the plentiful, legal supply of farmed bile alleviates poaching of wild bears.  Prompted by a resolution by the World Conservation Congress, the IUCN and Chinese government are initiating a multi-faceted, large scale study to investigate whether bear farming reduces or increases demand for wild bile.  One component of this project involves tracking trends in wild bear populations and examining whether poaching, even in the presence of nearby bear farms, causes population declines.  Here we evaluate various monitoring methods in nature reserves in China.  The ultimate aim is to establish a nationwide black bear monitoring system.

Kamchatka Brown Bear: Movements, Habitat Selection, Behaviour, Genetics and Human-bear Conflicts. Liya Pokrovskaya. Project no. IBA 2014-15 19.

Project summary: The Kamchatka brown bear (Ursus arctos piscator Pucheran, 1855) is the largest subspecies in Eurasia, being the top predator in the food web and playing a crucial role in the ecosystem of Kamchatka peninsula. It is an important object of ecotourism, trophy hunt and cultural traditions of indigenous people. Kamchatka brown bears are facing escalating threats from illegal harvest, increased human access to bear habitat, oil and gas development, and mining, habitat loss and resource degradation (Paczkowski, 2005). Despite the visual availability of Kamchatka bears, the movements and habitat selection patterns, genetic structure of the population and many behavioural attributes remain totally unstudied. During the last 10 years the frequency of human-bear conflict on Kamchatka have raised considerably. Understanding of these aspects of bear biology and the causes and consequences of conflicts are essential for successful management of the population. In 2015 we plan to begin a long-term international project for investigation Kamchatka brown bear population, located in the Kronotsky State Natural Biosphere Reserve and in adjacent unprotected areas. The aim of our project is to study behavioural ecology of Kamchatka brown bear and to develop a science-based program of population monitoring and management, especially regarding mitigation of human-bear conflicts. Our project is comprised of four main parts: GPS tracking, behavioural studies, genetic sampling and human-bear conflicts analysis and mitigation. We will investigate how the environmental quality, internal states of animals and anthropogenic pressure affect movements and habitat selection of bears to obtain an integrated understanding of their combined influence. Local communities will be involved in process of human-bear conflict reduction. Our project will provide both practical and theoretical outputs: 1) better understanding of Kamchatka brown bear biology and 2) raising effectiveness of Kamchatka brown bear monitoring and sustainable use. Funds ($15,000) are requested from IBA for field equipment, travel and life support for 4 researches during expedition and publication costs.

Photographic Monitoring of the Western Hudson Bay Polar Bear Population.  Elisabeth Flaherty.  Project no. IBA 2014-15 06.

Project summary: Cameras and photography analysis methods show promise for noninvasively collecting information about wildlife including estimating nutritional status and collecting body measurements that allow for evaluation and monitoring of one of the most southern populations of polar bears. The decline in annual sea ice, both with early break-up and late ice formation, reduces time available for polar bears to effectively hunt seals resulting in lower fat storage for use during the ice-free period in the summer. Declines in skull and body size, survival, abundance, and cub recruitment have been observed in polar bear populations during the last 10 years and appear related to the decline in sea ice. We propose a graduate research project to develop non-invasive methods and associated technology to estimate body condition of polar bears and establish a long-term monitoring program in Churchill, Manitoba (58.777°N, 93.699°W). We are requesting $3450 to support this work. Our objectives are to develop and advance existing methods used to noninvasively estimate polar bear body size and condition using photography and geometric morphometric methods and to evaluate possible changes in body condition and size over the last 30 years using recent and historic photographs from the same location. Efforts to collect photographs with location and distance to the bear using a laser rangefinder began during the 2012 fall field season and continued through 2014. In addition to these data, our partner, Polar Bears International, has >30 years of photographs of bears from this population near Churchill that we would use to evaluate changes in body size and condition over time. Ultimately, our goal with this work is to develop a citizen science project involving development of a website with an online tool that would allow citizen scientists to upload personal photos and use our methods to collect measurements of animals in their photographs.

Status and Conservation Challenges for Baluchistan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus) in Balochistan, Pakistan.  Ullah Najeeb. Project no. IBA 2014-15 14.

Project summary: Asiatic black bear is among the least known species of the world with very limited published literature available (Woodroffe 2001).  It is a rare mammals and is listed in the IUCN's Red List as a vulnerable species.  The Balochistan black bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus) is considered a subspecies of the Asiatic black bear found only in Balochistan province of Pakistan and some adjacent areas of south-eastern Iran (Roberts 1997). The Baluchistan bear locally known as "Mum", was once widely distributed in most of Balochistan province of Pakistan. Historically, this species has been reported in the Suleiman Range (Zhob District), Ziarat, Harnai, Khuzdar, Kharan and the Lasbela hills (Roberts, 1997).  It is considered extinct from a major part of its formal range, and the remaining population is fragmented and may be confined to an area of 12,000-50,000 sq. km. The black bear population in Balochistan is always considered isolated and unique (Sheikh and Malour 2003) and emphasis has been made on investigation of its status.  However, there has been no serious attempt in past to study this species, and the available information is very limited and mostly in the form of anecdotes and unverified reports.  There is risk of losing such a unique population of black bear if situation prevails for long. The proposed study aims to investigate current status of the black bear through systematic survey in entire range of the black bear in Balochistan province.

The Effects of Declining Sea Ice on Polar Bear Behaviors and Energetic Rates. Anthony Pagano. Project no. IBA 2014-15 17.

Project summary: Recent declines in polar bear 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 energy demands of polar bears. This study is using accelerometers to remotely identify polar bear behaviors and estimate energy rates. In 2014, we deployed long-term GPS satellite collars with accelerometers on 13 wild adult female polar bears. In addition, we deployed short-term video camera collars with accelerometers on 4 wild adult female polar bears. These 4 individuals were also dosed with doubly-labeled water to measure their metabolic rate. We are using the video collar data as well as data collected from captive bears to calibrate accelerometers to develop a method to remotely identify polar bear behaviors (e.g., walking, swimming, resting, eating). We plan to estimate the energetic costs of these behaviors by measuring oxygen consumption of captive bears while resting, walking, and swimming. 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 and 2014 were vital to our ability to collect the captive data needed for this study. We request an additional and final $5,000 for 2015 to help further aid this research.

Evaluating the Feasibility of the Use of Pacific Salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) Carcasses as Sources for Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) DNA.  Rachel Wheat. Project no. IBA 2014-15 25.

Project summary: Funding is requested in the amount of $5000 to contribute to research investigating whether brown bear (Ursus arctos) saliva collected from Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) carcasses is a viable source of bear DNA. Brown bears are the dominant predators on salmon spawning grounds in many areas of the North Pacific Rim. After capturing salmon in rivers and streams, brown bears move carcasses to land to feed. Bears modify their consumption of salmon to maximize lipid intake, often feeding selectively on body parts, such as brains and gonads, that provide the most concentrated amount of fat (Gende et al. 2001). In total, brown bears consume as little as 25% of the salmon they kill (Quinn 2005). This high-grading behavior results in many partially consumed salmon carcasses left near spawning areas, particularly when salmon abundance is high. Our aim is to determine whether saliva collected from high-graded salmon carcasses is a viable source of DNA for brown bears, and, if so, to determine a collection protocol that maximizes quality of DNA retrieved from carcasses. To date, we have collected 188 brown bear saliva samples from 156 partially consumed sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) and chum (O. keta) carcasses from the Chilkoot (59° 20.244'   -135° 35.370') and Klehini (59° 24.885'  -136° 04.016') watersheds in northern Southeast Alaska. Funding will be used for DNA extraction from samples and molecular genotyping of individual bears using microsatellite markers. Extraction success rates, genotyping error, and allelic dropout rates for the 188 saliva samples will be compared with the same values calculated from extraction and genotyping of 272 brown bear fecal samples collected concurrently.

Spatial interactions in multi-carnivore communities and ungulate predation in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Evelyn Merril. Project no. IBA 2014-15 13.

Project summary: Understanding how large carnivores interact within a predator-prey system is essential for their management and conservation. To date, most predator/prey studies have focused on one predator and their prey species. A recent study on predator communities indicated that communities that include grizzly bears show additive mortality on juvenile ungulates (Griffin et al. 2011). In the central east slopes of the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, a diverse community of large predators including grizzly and black bears prey on a declining population of elk and an increasing population of deer. As part of our 13-year study on elk, we propose to use scat-detection dogs as a cost-effective approach of surveying multiple predators in the area to determine (1) how predators are spatially distributed relative to each other on the landscape as an indication of predator risk, and (2) their relative predation on elk vs. other ungulates based on scat analysis including distinguishing predation on juveniles based on hair characteristics in the scat. We hypothesize that grizzly bears are a major predator at high elevations on migratory elk calves, black bears are a major predator at low elevations on resident elk calves, wolf and coyote scat are negatively associated but their predation risk is more widespread than bears, whereas cougar and lynx predation is local and focused on deer rather than elk. We request $4500 from IBA to cover five months of ATV rental for access to very difficult terrain ($3000), field supplies including GPS software and scat collection materials ($500), and a portion of the DNA analysis of the scat samples ($1000).

Marsican Bear Smart Community. ONG Salviamo l’Orso. Project no. IBA 2014-15 22.

Project summary: The population of brown bear of the Italian central Apennines (Fig. 1) has been proposed has an endemic subspecies with the name Ursus arctos marsicanus (Altobello, 1921), based on morphologic and genetic diversity (Loy et al. 2008), and is Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List of Italy (Rondinini et al. 2013). The key threat to its persistence is the direct persecution due to conflicts with farmers. The project Marsican Bear Smart Community consists of a set of conservation interventions to prevent conflicts between humans and bears and educate the local communities of Pettorano sul Gizio (~41˚58′ N 13˚57′ E) and Rocca Pia (~41˚56′ N 13˚58′ E) on how to co-exist with bears. The project area connects the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise NP (ALMNP), hosting all reproductive females, to a large suitable and protected area, the Majella NP (MNP). Establishing bear smart communities in this region is critically important to promote the re-colonization process and ensure the persistence of this subspecies. This project builds on existing actions implemented in the core-area of the Marsican bears to reduce road mortality, disturbance from human activities and poaching through generous donations from private citizens, and foundations. The main actions proposed include: 1) secure livestock and beehives at higher risk of bear predation through provision of electric fences; 2) provision of bear-proofs waste bins; 3) production and publication of a best-practice manual for a “Bear smart community”; 4) public events to disseminate the manual, maximize uptake of the best-practice, strengthen the support for the organization and the project, and build a local, lasting capacity to co-exist with bears; 5) financial support to local councils to close vehicular traffic in forestry roads connecting the NPs; 7) monitoring of the impacts of our activities through reporting of bear damages and bear frequentation.

Spatial distribution of critical food of Asiatic black bears in rural fringes: Development of monitoring scheme to reduce negative human-bear interactions, Japan. Chihiro Takahata. Project no. IBA 2014-15 23.

Project summary: Species: Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus.

Study area: 2 mountain regions in Honshu island, Japan; The Central Japan Alps & Karuizawa resort area in Nagano prefecture.

Project type: Research.

Prior work accomplished:Habitat selection by Asiatic black bear in the Central Japan Alps during summer.

Takahata, C., Nishino, S., Kido, K., & Izumiyama, S. (2013). An evaluation of habitat selection of Asiatic black bears in a season of prevalent conflicts. Ursus, 24(1), 16-26.

Estimate human-bear boundaries in two seasons, summer and autumn

Takahata, C., Nielsen, S. E., Takii, A., & Izumiyama, S. (2014). Habitat Selection of a Large Carnivore along Human-Wildlife Boundaries in a Highly Modified Landscape. PloS one, 9(1), e86181.

Assessing the Innate Odor-Driven Behavior of Brown Bears (Ursus arctos).  Heiko Jansen. Project no. IBA 2014-15 08.

Project summary: To date, very little scientific evidence exists regarding bear olfaction and thus major gaps exist in our knowledge. These gaps can be organized into three related categories: innateness, specificity, and sensitivity of odor-driven behaviors. Innateness refers to that component of bear odor-driven behavior that is not learned through reinforcement and repetition. This is potentially an important determinant of cub survival especially when emerging from the den with few learned behaviors combined with a complex and potentially dangerous olfactory landscape. A fundamental ecological question therefore is how young bears will respond to odors from potential threats such as adult males, other predators (wolves, coyotes, mountain lions), or humans in the absence of learning and reinforcement. One possibility is that young bears exhibit an innate aversion to certain odors from potential predators. Conversely, an innate attraction to familiar scents, such as those from the mother’s milk or urine, may be expressed and override any innate fear. To our knowledge these hypotheses have never been tested directly. Thus, the goal of the current proposal is to systematically address several aspects of odor-directed behavior in bears to broaden our understanding of this important function. We will use a custom-built and expandable behavioral apparatus that allows precise control over odor delivery and one that can also be used to repeatedly test olfactory function over the first year of life in a cohort of captive brown bear cubs. The bear research facility at Washington State University has a long history of innovate research in bear biology and conservation is therefore uniquely qualified to address these novel questions. Ultimately, the knowledge gained will allow conservationists and managers to better understand the unique role that olfaction plays in the daily life of bears especially when developing plans to mitigate bear-human conflicts.

Assessing ecological connectivity and kin-related social organization among brown bears around the wildlife migration zone and human-bear conflict area Baile Tusnad, Romania. Alexandra Sallay. Project no. IBA 2014-15 21.

Project summary: Kin-related social structures have been documented in many gregarious animals, even for solitary mammals as the bear. It may influence population dynamics by means of reproductive success and survival. Still, it is not clarified if the aggregation of kin has a positive effect on the inclusive fitness of female bears. Former studies could indeed identify local clusters of genetically related individuals whereas other matrilines were dispersed. But matrilinear assemblages might only exist in habitats with sufficient food resources. The proposed project᾽s aim is therefore to continue a genetical study that assesses the ecological connectivity and kin-related social organization among (i.a. food-conditioned) brown bears (Ursus arctos) around the wildlife migration zone in Baile Tusnad and find out if multigenerational clusters in such human-bear conflict areas where food resources are abundant exist. In the first step we set up 16 hair-traps (photo-traps) on 23 km2 that were weekly baited and verified and collected faeces from April until December 2013. For genetical analyses we obtained a total of 98 hair samples (83 from hair taps, 6 captures, 8 dead bears, 1 injured individual) and 21 scat samples. We could identify at least 45 different genotypes (22 males, 20 females, 1 unknown sex; 2 possible matches with others). 6 individuals were recaptured at least more than once. Due to monitoring we assume 12 bears being “full-time residents” in Baile Tusnad, having their home ranges established in the area. Thus, 33 individuals used the area at least for crossing. Kinship-analyses suggested that 84% of pairs of individuals were unrelated, but among parent-offspring relationships female-female dyads were represented in highest percentage. We are requesting the IBA grant for analyzing 75 tissue samples of harvested bears (2012-2015) to investigate how genetic relatedness changes with increasing geographic distance from the corridor towards the East and the West.