Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A Bear of Very Little Brain

From the NYT (while it's still there):
It was built to be impenetrable, from its “super rugged transparent polycarbonate housing” to its intricate double-tabbed lid that would keep campers’ food in and bears’ paws out.
...
Some canisters fail in the testing stage when large bears are able to rip off the lid. But wildlife officials say that Yellow-Yellow, a 125-pound bear named for two yellow ear tags that help wildlife officials keep tabs on her, has managed to systematically decipher a complex locking system that confounds even some campers.
...
Similar to a childproof medicine bottle, the BearVault 350 and 400 models can be opened by pressing a tab that allows the camper to screw off the lid. But reports began coming in from campers a few years ago that BearVaults were being broken into. State wildlife officials began suspecting Yellow-Yellow, one of a number of bears they have tagged and tracked as a way of studying the behavior of the more than 5,000 bears roaming the Adirondacks.

In most BearVault break-ins, Yellow-Yellow’s radio collar indicated she had been in the area. Eventually, campers began spotting her from afar rifling canisters. There have been no reports of her threatening anyone.

So last year Mr. Hogan introduced the 450, a two-pound cylinder costing about $60, and a larger version, the 500, each with a second tab. On them, a camper must press in one tab, turn the lid partway, then press the second tab to remove the lid. “We thought, ‘O.K., well, one bump didn’t work so maybe two bumps will thwart her,’ ” he said.

But Yellow-Yellow figured that lid out, too.

Last month, her achievements were noted in an article in Adirondack Explorer. And she now appears to have apprentices; campers have reported seeing other bears getting into their BearVaults.
...
It is not certain exactly how Yellow-Yellow plundered campers’ Italian sausages and granola bars, but she apparently depresses one tab with her teeth, turns the lid, uses her teeth on the second tab, and then opens it.
...
Ben Tabor, a state wildlife technician who has tracked Yellow-Yellow, said the evidence on the canister supports that theory. (He watched her tackle a BearVault two years ago, although he was too far away to determine her method. ) He doubts, however, that she has out-of-the-ordinary intelligence. “I don’t think she’s smarter than most bears,” he said. “I think she’s had more time to learn.”
But of course, they're only animals. Operating from instinct. They certainly don't learn, and teach others, like intelligent creatures do.

Yeah, right.

8 comments:

Carolyn Ann said...

I found the article intriguing. I do a lot of camping in bear country, and I've heard enough anecdotes to convince me that the bag on a rope thing doesn't work. (I heard of a large black bear in Montana that climbed the tree where the food was stored, and simply knocked the tree branch down!)

Bears are intelligent, and they do show an ability to learn. Obviously, one or two bears are going to be the Einstein's of the species. Heck, you can see a strong learning ability in two or three of our cats! Jeremy, a big handsome, intelligent, hunk if there ever was one, has shown he can figure things out.

I'm not sure about the advice of "run away" if you come across a bear. While it's potentially less harmful than the old, stupid, "play dead" routine, running away should be accompanied by a large weapon, and a lot of looking back. Bears are fast, nimble and superb trackers. The biggest problem is that some black bears (the most dangerous sort) are easy to figure out, but not all of them are - some of them have brown pelts. It's best to think of all bears as dangerous! I carry a big knife when I'm camping in bear country...

Carolyn Ann

Danielle said...

OMG you've quoted the NYT!

:)

Carolyn Ann said...

Oh - I forgot. The thinking on bear attacks is that you should fight for your life whenever a bear attacks you.

Go figure...
Carolyn Ann

Battybattybats said...

Lock opening bears, jar opening and shelter constructing octopi, tool using and making not just apes but birds and lets not forget the birds with good maths skills, fish that learn from older fish their migration patterns...

Well my health problems won't let me go vegetarian so hurry up and perfect that cloned vat-meat so I can eat more ethically dammit!

Sara said...

“I don’t think she’s smarter than most bears,” he said.

"most bears"? I believe the proper ending to this phrase would be, "the average bear".

Still, I'm thinking that repeating the same locking mechanism *a second time* against an animal that has shown it can defeat said mechanism truly assumes human superiority.

“I think she’s had more time to learn.”

Except, of course, for those *other* bears, the ones that learned (apparently quickly) from her how to open the canisters.

Park Rangers...kinda remind me of the APA.

Lloyd Flack said...

When I visited Yosemite I noticed the bear proof bins. They relied on manipulative abilities that humans have and bears do not. To open you had to reach in through a slot under the lid and manipulate something on its underside. To do so you have to rotate your forearm. A bear cammot do that, at least not enough to operate the bin.

Anonymous said...

My bear story. Many years ago, I was hiking Yosemite NP, and was taking a two or three day hike up Half Dome. (If you're not scared standing near the lip of Half Dome, you're not human!) Anyways, my first campground was bear country and the rangers said to put food up on the cables. I got there, dropped my pack and went to the bathroom in the latrine. By the time I walked out, a bear had knocked my pack down, and I watched it put it's paw on the zipper to the food area. Popped the zipper open and caught a claw on the fabric. Contrary to good behaviour, I started to yell and the bear looked at me and said "that's one crazy human" and walked away.

Nancy

Zoe Brain said...

Nancy! Good to have you back.