Neck-cams capture Alaska's bears foraging through city

Reuters News
Posted: May 13, 2013 9:48 PM

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The lives of urban-dwelling bears are chronicled in neck-cam video clips showing their trash-trawling, birdseed-raiding and bear-bonding antics as several of the burly creatures caroused through Alaska's biggest city.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game collected about 60 hours of footage last summer from tiny cameras mounted on the collars of four black bears and two brown bears known to frequent the environs in and around Anchorage, a city of some 30,000 humans.

The cameras, equipped with locator technology and designed to fall off the animals after two months, captured a trove of images confirming biologists' longstanding warnings that bears are attracted by unsecured garbage, unprotected gardens and unattended bird feeders.

"They seem to get into garbage or birdseed very, very frequently, about every day," said Sean Farley, the state biologist leading the project.

But preliminary examination shows that the city-roaming bears spend about twice as much time scrounging natural food as they do scavenging trash, birdseed or other edibles left outside by humans, Farley said.

The Fish and Game Department recently posted some excerpts of the footage on its website, inviting the public to watch and learn.

One clip features a close-up view of glistening drool flowing from the jaws of a bear about to chow down on an open bag of bird seed.

It was one of several instances in which bears, seen lumbering about town with their tongues hanging out of their mouths, are shown to often behave "like dogs when they're excited," Farley said.

There also is footage of bears moving through groves of trees and munching berries, plucking insects from rotted wood, gulping gulls' eggs and chewing on the carcass of a dead moose calf.

In one particularly surprising revelation, all the camera-equipped animals were seen acquiring bear buddies during the video period.

A mother bear shared her den with another adult, as well as with her three cubs. And one of the black bears padded over the low-tide mud flats to Fire Island, an uninhabited spot 3 miles off the city's mainland, where it found the company of a local brown bear.

"The two rough-housed and played together," Farley said. That type of inter-species relationship is extremely rare in nature, he said.

As biologists sift through the footage gathered so far, some of which is still being delivered by the department's contractor, they are preparing to continue the video project, Farley said. Six more city bears are expected to be equipped with collar cameras this summer, he said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman)