PHOTOS: Grizzly bears use tools? WSU study under way - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

PHOTOS: Grizzly bears use tools? WSU study under way

Posted: Updated:
Star of the study: Using her paws, 9-year-old Kio flips a plastic box to position it under the hanging donuts as a footstool. She has started selecting the box over the tree stump, presumably because it is easier to manipulate. (Photos by Linda Weiford, W Star of the study: Using her paws, 9-year-old Kio flips a plastic box to position it under the hanging donuts as a footstool. She has started selecting the box over the tree stump, presumably because it is easier to manipulate. (Photos by Linda Weiford, W
“Kio box 2 print.jpg” - 3-year-old Roan has just figured out that he can move the stump in order to stand upon it. “Kio box 2 print.jpg” - 3-year-old Roan has just figured out that he can move the stump in order to stand upon it.
PULLMAN, Wash. -

In a first-ever study, researchers at Washington State University are examining whether grizzly bears make and use tools. And while it's too soon to reach a broad scientific conclusion, at least one female bear is demonstrating that, yes, she definitely can.

Information gleaned from the study can be used to help wildlife managers better solve grizzly-related challenges and problems, according to researchers, and also assist zookeepers in keeping captive bears mentally and physically stimulated.

The study, being conducted at WSU's Bear Research Education and Conservation Center, is documenting eight grizzlies faced with the challenge of getting their claws into a dangling food snack that's too high to reach. No training is involved. The researchers are chronicling innate learning behavior.

“While it's generally accepted that grizzly bears are intelligent creatures, until now no scientific research had been conducted on their problem-solving skills,” said WSU veterinary biologist Lynne Nelson, who is overseeing the study.

In WSU's controlled setting, eight brown bears—three males and five females—are being tested separately and are at various phases of the experiment, said Nelson. To date, a 9-year-old grizzly named Kio has sailed through each phase, essentially nailing the hypothesis that the species is capable of tool use.

Here's how the study works: Inside the grizzly bears' play area, a donut is hung on a string from a wire, too high for the animals to reach. First, each bear is tested to see if it will stand on a sawed-off tree stump to reach up and get the donut down. Once this is mastered, researchers move the stump away from the hanging donut and place it on its side.

Here's where things get challenging. The bear must move the stump until it is positioned underneath the donut and then flip the stump over into a makeshift footstool.

All of which Kio mastered early on: “She manipulates an inanimate object in several steps to help her achieve a goal, which in this case is to obtain food,” said Nelson. “This fits the definition of tool use.”

The other grizzlies are in the process of figuring out the feat, she explained, which confirms what the center's scientists have long suspected about the keen brain power of bears. Frequently, Nelson and her colleagues witness grizzlies doing remarkable things, including using a single claw in a key-like manner to try to open locks.

Why should humans scientifically assess tool use among America's greatest predators?

“If grizzly bears are capable of using tools to interact with their environment, that's important for us to know because it provides a fuller picture of how they think,” said WSU veterinary student Alex Waroff, who designed the study and who, with Nelson, tests the bears five mornings a week.

“By better understanding their cognitive abilities, we can help reduce encounters that can turn deadly for bears and humans alike,” he said.

Such understanding also could shed light on whether the species is capable of manipulating its environment when faced with changes in the wild, such as shifts in habitat conditions or declining food sources, he explained.

As Nelson points out, most of the center's grizzly bears were deemed “problem bears” in the wild and were brought to WSU as an alternative to being shot and killed.

“Grizzlies are smart foragers and they'll work hard to get at food – which, as we're seeing, can include some pretty sophisticated strategies,” she said.

The glazed donuts, donated by a local grocery store, are used to entice the bears for the study and aren't part of their normal diet, said Nelson.

“Yes, they like sweets – just like humans,” she said. “But we're careful to restrict their intake.”

The study is expected to be completed this fall.

 THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Spokane family discovers their new home destroyed

    Spokane family discovers their new home destroyed

    Saturday, November 18 2017 1:38 AM EST2017-11-18 06:38:51 GMT

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A family's dream home turned into a house of horrors after a man breaks in, destroying everything inside.  It was a day the Gunther family had been waiting for, to move into their new home. But when she checked on the place during her lunch break Thursday, Brittanie immediately knew something was wrong.   All of the work her family had done to get their new home ready was gone. "I don't even know what's really 

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A family's dream home turned into a house of horrors after a man breaks in, destroying everything inside.  It was a day the Gunther family had been waiting for, to move into their new home. But when she checked on the place during her lunch break Thursday, Brittanie immediately knew something was wrong.   All of the work her family had done to get their new home ready was gone. "I don't even know what's really 

    >>
  • Missing 13-year-old girl reported in Spokane Valley is found safe

    Missing 13-year-old girl reported in Spokane Valley is found safe

    Saturday, November 18 2017 2:04 AM EST2017-11-18 07:04:45 GMT

    SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash.- Spokane Valley Sheriff's Deputies say they're looking for 13-year-old Jordan Ballou, who has been missing since 3pm Friday.  Deputies say she was last seen in the 6300 block of E. 4th Ave in Spokane Valley. 

    >>

    SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash.- Spokane Valley Sheriff's Deputies say they're looking for 13-year-old Jordan Ballou, who has been missing since 3pm Friday.  Deputies say she was last seen in the 6300 block of E. 4th Ave in Spokane Valley. 

    >>
  • Navy issues updated statement on 'irresponsible and immature act' after obscene images drawn in skies over Okanogan Co.

    Navy issues updated statement on 'irresponsible and immature act' after obscene images drawn in skies over Okanogan Co.

    Friday, November 17 2017 4:50 PM EST2017-11-17 21:50:11 GMT

    OMAK, Wash. - I can picture the Austin Powers bit now.  The people of Omak looking up at the sky and seeing a giant (Fill in the blank innuendo here) just like in 1999's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. If you're unfamiliar, I'll save you a Google search.  A simple, yet effectively funny joke.  Except the U.S. Navy doesn't see humor in the real-life version at all.  

    >>

    OMAK, Wash. - I can picture the Austin Powers bit now.  The people of Omak looking up at the sky and seeing a giant (Fill in the blank innuendo here) just like in 1999's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. If you're unfamiliar, I'll save you a Google search.  A simple, yet effectively funny joke.  Except the U.S. Navy doesn't see humor in the real-life version at all.  

    >>
HD DOPPLER 6i
/
  • Top Stories from KHQHomeMore>>

  • Missing 13-year-old girl reported in Spokane Valley is found safe

    Missing 13-year-old girl reported in Spokane Valley is found safe

    Saturday, November 18 2017 2:04 AM EST2017-11-18 07:04:45 GMT

    SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash.- Spokane Valley Sheriff's Deputies say they're looking for 13-year-old Jordan Ballou, who has been missing since 3pm Friday.  Deputies say she was last seen in the 6300 block of E. 4th Ave in Spokane Valley. 

    >>

    SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash.- Spokane Valley Sheriff's Deputies say they're looking for 13-year-old Jordan Ballou, who has been missing since 3pm Friday.  Deputies say she was last seen in the 6300 block of E. 4th Ave in Spokane Valley. 

    >>
  • Mad Minute stories from Friday, November 17th

    Mad Minute stories from Friday, November 17th

    Friday, November 17 2017 6:10 PM EST2017-11-17 23:10:38 GMT

    Here are the extended versions of the KHQ Local News 11 at 11 Mad Minute stories from Friday, November 17th.

    >>

    Here are the extended versions of the KHQ Local News 11 at 11 Mad Minute stories from Friday, November 17th.

    >>
  • Spokane family discovers their new home destroyed

    Spokane family discovers their new home destroyed

    Saturday, November 18 2017 1:38 AM EST2017-11-18 06:38:51 GMT

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A family's dream home turned into a house of horrors after a man breaks in, destroying everything inside.  It was a day the Gunther family had been waiting for, to move into their new home. But when she checked on the place during her lunch break Thursday, Brittanie immediately knew something was wrong.   All of the work her family had done to get their new home ready was gone. "I don't even know what's really 

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. - A family's dream home turned into a house of horrors after a man breaks in, destroying everything inside.  It was a day the Gunther family had been waiting for, to move into their new home. But when she checked on the place during her lunch break Thursday, Brittanie immediately knew something was wrong.   All of the work her family had done to get their new home ready was gone. "I don't even know what's really 

    >>