Aversive Conditioning: Saving Bears on a Weekly Basis
Black bear biologist Carl Lackey describes aversive conditioning like this:
“Once we have the bear in the trap and right as we release it, we shoot rubber bullets at it and chase it with Karelian bear dogs, using all of the tools available to us in our aversion conditioning program. The goal is to make the bear uncomfortable and make it think twice before coming back to civilization.”
Lackey stated that on-site releases and the chance to use aversion conditioning on the bear gives NDOW a chance to “save” the bear from becoming a dangerous bear in the future. “When people who need help call us first, it gives us the chance to intervene right at the time when the bear first gets into trouble, when that happens we have a chance to alter its behavior.”
NDOW has saved nearly 400 bears using aversive conditioning treatment since the technique was first employed in the late 1990s. “The key to saving these bears is that we receive a phone call from the public right when the bear shows up in a neighborhood,” said Lackey. “When we’re allowed to do our job from the beginning, without interference from outside groups, we can save most bears.”
GARDNERVILLE, NV - A female black bear and her cub were released back into the wild after being caught in the Foothill Road area of Carson Valley by the Nevada Department of Wildlife during the early morning hours of Thursday, August 15. A trap was set in the area ten days ago because there were complaints of bears doing damage to bee hives.
NDOW says the adult female was caught in the trap about 2AM Thursday. The female cub was up a tree, above the trap, when biologist Carl Lackey responded. NDOW says Lackey tranquilized the female, dragged her out of the trap and placed her under the tree (still tranquilized) where the cub was perched. The cub then walked out of the tree and was safely darted. “We’ve used that technique successfully before,” said Lackey. “By luring the cub from the tree, we can dart it without the bear falling out of the tree and possible getting hurt or killed.”
The older female had been captured before by Lackey “roughly in the same area” in 2007, and is estimated to be about 14 years old. “We performed aversive conditioning before and she stayed away seven years. We’ll do it again to her and the cub when we release them and they should get the message to stay away from human activity.”
“We can really make an impression on these bears with aversion conditioning,” said Lackey. “The residents in this area, by cooperating with us and not hindering our bear-saving efforts, are doing what is best for the bears. When we are allowed to do our job and intervene with aversion conditioning techniques we can save bears, and that is our goal.”
The bears were released Thursday night in the Kingsbury Grade area.
In addition to capturing the two bears, Lackey is working with the owner of the bee hives to strengthen the electric fence that was already in place when the bears first started coming into the area.
People needing to report nuisance bear activity can call the NDOW’s Bear Hotline telephone number at (775) 688-BEAR (2327).
For information on living with bears, go to www.ndow.org and find the ”Bear Logic” page on the web.