Monday, October 22, 2007

The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

Our last full day in Yellowstone, we decided to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. The center is an educational park teaching the public about wild bears and wolves. Upon entering the center, the exhibit focuses primarily on bears. There is information on where bears live, the differences between black and brown bears, how bears feed, how bears interact with humans, and how a bear can eventually become a "nuisance bear" and be killed. A number of newspaper articles in the exhibit show bears and wolves in current event stories.

Outside of the exhibit building, there are two caged sections. On one side, the center has 9 bears that are rotated out to a 1-acre plot viewable by the public. Bears are sometimes let out individually or sometimes in tandem. There are only certain bear combinations that get along so great lengths have to be taken to decide who can go with who. Food is hidden throughout the 1-acre piece of land, so the bears are forced to use their natural abilities to sniff out the food. The bears typically are out for 45 to 90 minutes. During our visit, Kobuk and Nakina were foraging in the habitat.

Each bear has its own unique, interesting story. Some have become "nuisance bears" meaning they had learned to find food in human territory and were having too many dangerous encounters with humans. Nuisance bears usually are relocated a number of times and if they continue, they are killed. Some lost their mothers when they were cubs. Cubs typically require their mother for 2 years to learn to survive in the wild so losing their mother is a death sentence. Each bear has a billboard describing their story.

We enjoyed watching the bears so much, we waited for another couple to come up. Stoke and Revel came out and walked around the habitat restlessly. Stoke, in particular, was bathing in the bath and prowling around throughout the habitat for food. According to one of the center's employees, Stoke is one of the best combination bears.

Stoke can go out with most any of the habitat's bears except for 101.

101 is a special case. 101 had been a wild bear for 20 years and has spent the last 5 years at the center. 101 had become a nuisance bear and despite numerous relocations, the bear was scheduled to be killed. Instead, the center took 101 in. 101 cannot be in the habitat with any other bear and typically is not out when the public is there. The bear has her wild tendencies to protect her territory and is stressed by the public viewing. Learn about all of the bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center website.

On the other side of the park, there is three-quarters of an acre for the Gallatin wolf pack. The pack contains 4 wolves that were all brought up in captivity. None of the wolves have the skills to survive in the wild.

In Yellowstone's Hayden valley, we had seen wild wolves via spotting scopes. The center gave us the unique opportunity to watch these animals up close. They spent most of their time sleeping but occasionally got up for a drink of water.

The latest addition to the center is the "Living with Bears" presentation. The presentation was highlighted by Jewel, a Karelian Bear Dog who once worked for the Wind River Bear Institute. Jewel was being used as an aversive conditioning tool (like rubber bullets, yelling, etc.) against nuisance bears. Karelian bear dogs have a unique ability to harrass bears without getting themselves hurt by the bear. They have amazing intuition in knowing when to retreat and when to attack. In Montana, when a bear has become a nuisance bear, officials will call in the Wind River Bear Institute's trained dogs to help teach the bear that the human developed territory isn't safe to enter. Nuisance bears are typically collared so officials can track them. Then, as these bears re-enter human developed areas, they use leashed karelian bear dogs to scare and corner the bear. This is done repeatedly until the bear stops entering human areas or must be put down. The karelian bear dog method has been proven to work and saved numerous wild bear lives. Karelian bear dogs are difficult pets so Jewel was a unique opportunity to work for the center. Jewel enjoys human interaction. She also had some issues with food allergies and her mother which forced her to retire from her original job.

The center was educational and provided an opportunity to safely monitor these sometimes massive and always beautiful animals up close.

Is the center a good idea? Should bears be taken from the wild when death is inevitable and kept captive? Would you accept life in prison or prefer death? Answer on the poll on this blog. For more pictures from the center, click here.

No comments: