Training bears to be nice to people

Interesting research and hypothesis:

The patterns of attacks reported here may also reflect an increasing number of bold individuals in large carnivore populations, as this trait is often correlated with aggressiveness13,14, and this might lead to more aggressive responses when large carnivores encounter humans. We hypothesise that intense and prolonged human-caused mortality imposes selection pressures on target populations (selective removal of certain phenotypes) and might lead to rapid evolutionary changes15. Natural selection maintains a mix of behavioural phenotypes in populations16, the shy-bold behavioural continuum17; bold individuals thrive on risk and novelty, whereas shy individuals shrink from the same situations18. Persecution, however, is expected to result in the disproportionate removal of bold individuals, as they are less cautious19, and thus more likely to be killed. As a consequence, shy individuals might have been overrepresented in remnant large carnivore populations in the past17,18,20,21,22. Additionally, individuals may become more vigilant and actively avoid contact with humans during times of intense persecution23. Although the history of large carnivore persecution and conservation differ across regions9, the contemporary conservation paradigm emerged during the 1960s–1970s24, when most bounty systems were banned25 and large carnivores were reclassified from vermins or bountied predators to game or protected species. Since then, although large carnivores have continued to be hunted or managed (Extended Data Fig. 3), most populations have generally increased during the past four decades9,11,12. Increasing population trends in conjunction with relaxed artificial selection may potentially engender higher variation in behavioural temperaments26, which is likely to alter individual responses to human encounters22. This significant increase of large carnivore populations in both North America and Europe, and their consequent range expansion, also may contribute to explain the observed increase in the attacks on humans.

Basically, they are saying if people shoot the individual predators in a species that are on the aggressive end of the behavior spectrum the species population as a whole will be better behaved toward humans. We have had relatively good behavior toward humans from these predators for many years because we selected for good behavior decades ago and then the selection process was banned. Because we stopped shooting them this may be responsible for the recent increase in predator attacks on people.

Basically, we can train bears to be nice by shooting the not so nice ones. I’m pretty sure this same strategy also works with two legged predators.

See also Bear spray, yes or no? for further examination of the issue.


8 thoughts on “Training bears to be nice to people

  1. My brother lives in Juneau. He said that last weekend there were four bear attacks: two black, two brown, two dead people and two just mauled.
    (not all attacks were in Juneau)

    Also another missing hiker just… gone. Healthy, went for a hike/jog on one of the local trails, expected to be gone only an hour or so. Car found, no evidence of foul play.

    Bears are smart: they have not been taught that humans are to be feared. It absolutely CAN be done.
    Sadly, a lot of left-wing people are totally OK with that. Those same left-wing people don’t seem to realize where that attitude puts them on the global pecking order, though, and they want to force the rest of us to join them.

  2. I live in Juneau, AK. Just had another bear attack on a guy walking his dog today. And earlier today a yearling black bear walked in the open door of a local liquor store. Bears aren’t nice, they’re not friendly. And they’re never going to be. They’re wild animals and they’re always going to look for food (which is rarely human, but sometimes we are the prey), protect their young, and react if they’re surprised. Living, working and playing in a place frequented by big coastal brown bears, black bears and wolves teaches one a whole new measure of respect in the forest, up in the mountains or along the shoreline. We’re NOT at the top of the food chain when we’re out and about. Not sure I agree with the premise of “selecting” for “friendlier” predators… Seems like it was written by somebody who has never smellled a bear kill and decided that the prudent thing to do is make tracks in the opposite direction while keeping one’s head on a swivel… Reality vs theory.

  3. I’ll settle for training bears to be afraid of people. “Nice” is way beyond what I would ever expect of a large predator. The strategy is the same, shoot the ones that get belligerent.

  4. very minor quibble: shooting the problem predators is not training the remainder, it’s selection. and it absolutely needs to be done, the only thing up for debate is how strong and how selective the selection pressure ought to be.

    • You mean we can’t teach bears that maul not to maul?

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