Nevada Department of Wildlife officials had a small bear cub euthanized at Lake Tahoe last week, after it displayed troublesome behavior.
The young animal was the third offspring to be put down, from a notoriously misbehaving black bear which is speculated to have passed its negative traits to its cubs. The measure had to be taken because food foraging activities could have escalated in the cub breaking into the locals’ homes.
The mama bear, identified by tag number Green 108, is known in the area for its bad behavior, and has been described by wildlife biologist Carl Lackey as a “chronic, nuisance type-bear”. According to reports, the 19-year old animal has been known by townspeople for going through trash, always in the same area, and has been apprehended, along with her cubs, on several occasions.
The bears’ behavior has renewed the traditional debate of “nature” versus “nurture”, which has been baffling researchers for decades.
Lackey himself has co-authored such a thesis about the role of genetics in determining bad behavior among black bears. The findings, published in the “Journal of Mammology” in 2008 established that hereditary factors alone could not explain the misbehaving streak some of these animals display.
On the other hand, another study conducted in 2008 by researchers at Yosemite’s Division of Resources management discovered that mother bears “actively tutor” their litter to forage for food in humor environments, making this a seemingly vital skill which has to be passed from generation to generation.
It is believed that even if, to some extent, cubs may have inherited the troublesome gene from their mothers, human beings have been reinforcing this bad behavior, by leaving garbage within their reach. In order to help the cubs break away from this vicious generational cycle, residents should be more careful when disposing of their trash.
Experts warn that the small animals have already become accustomed to the food and are actively seeking it now. Such behavior is risky not just for locals, but also for the bears themselves, because when they engage in such foraging, they are 5.6 times more likely to be hunted, hit by a car or killed for safety reasons.
Bear-proof trash containers, which have been used for years by national parks across the west, could provide a solution to this problem. In the Canadian Rockies, such garbage cans have become mandatory since 1999, and their example was followed by a few American towns also, such as Genoa, Nevada or Aspen, Colorado, which also discourage the use of unsecured trash.
However, other towns like Lake Tahoe haven’t implemented such measures, claiming they are too costly. Until the early 1990’s, the Sierra Nevada area didn’t even have a bear problem, but following extensive periods of drought, resources became scarce and bears were forced to leave the mountains and seek food in populated areas.
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