Capturing and Tracking Wild Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone

When you look a bear in the eyes, there'san intelligent animal behind that.

And that's, I think, an appreciation that in my case has evolved over time.

I'm a wildlife biologist and work on grizzlybears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

It's a humbling experience, because you know there's something way more powerful than you are, out on this landscape.

– Can you guard his head? Okay.

– We gotta get this leg out underneath.

This bear was close to 500 pounds.

I was inside the culvert trap, so I was making sure that, as we take the animal out of the trap, that the head is well-protected.

And there's really two primary things thatgo through my head: foremost, the safety of the animals and the second thing is the safety of our personnel, as well.

It is possible that aloud sound, for example, will just temporarily, just a split second, arouse the animal, andit might actually raise up and sometimes they have this spontaneous response.

I always had an interest in large carnivores, especially because I grew up in Western Europe where they didn't exist, and it almost felt like something was missing in the place I lived.

I started working for the Grizzly Bear Study Team in 2012.

I had worked on black bears in Tennessee for over 20 years prior to that.

For a bear biologist, working on grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is like the epitome of what you could accomplish, and so I have to pinch myself all the time, it's like, “wow, I get to do this.



for my job!” The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team was established back in 1973, so we've been in existence for a long time.

And it is composed of eight agency partners, federal, state, and tribal agencies, that work together to basically monitor the statusof the Yellowstone grizzly bear population.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 were listedas threatened in 1975, under the Endangered Species Act.

I think that interagency collaboration hasbeen absolutely critical to the success of the science.

And I think that's the reason that we nowhave a population that is biologically recovered.

So when we have a capture like this, we get all our equipment close by.

The first thing we check for is: are there any other bears roaming around? It could be that we've captured a female and her yearlings or two-year-olds are hanging around, or vice versa.

Those are situationsthat we really try to be very aware of before we get close to the trap.

Now this is a healthy individual – it's aclose to 500-pound male bear.

Bears are individualistic as humans are, and their responses while they're in a trap like this can be extremely different from one bear to another.

– Slow and easy.

Oxygen stays on the bear.

Some bears will kind of let out this roarand that can be very intimidating, in fact.

Sometimes they will claw at the inside ofthe trap, and in most instances, bears are actually, like in this case, relatively calm.

Then we estimate the weight of the bear that is inside the culvert trap, and that allows us to make sure that we administer just the right amount of immobilization drug to be able to handle that particular bear.

After carefully checking that the bear isindeed immobilized, we open the trap, and we have roughly about an hour for the entire handling.

So that includes body measurements, body weight.

– Pulse is 119.

We also collect some samples, like hair samples, where we can get information in terms of their genetics – we can identify each individual bear based on genetics alone, and we can develop family relationships, from that information, with other bears that we capture.

We now also routinely use GPS tracking collars, that are linked up via satellite, so we can actually track these individual bears, almost in real time.

We do telemetry flights to monitor those animals at least twice a month, so we can get a status of where they are; whether they're still alive or not.

That type of information is absolutely critical to assessing the changes that have occurred in this population over time.

It's so important for us to do something usefulwith that data that we get from the research.

That's when the science becomes real.

And so there's quite a bit of computer time involved, and that actually turns out also to be verygratifying, because you kind of see patterns in that, that some of us would have neverexpected to see.

When we are done with the handling, we put the animal back into the trap for recovery, and then typically release the animal laterin the evening of that same day.

We may never hear or see of it again.

Andso making sure that the effort was worthwhile – it's very important that we get as much information as we possibly can on this particular animal because it may be the only time that we ever catch this particular animal.

It says a lot about us as a nation, to wantto protect and recover a population like this, of animals that could potentially harm, injure, and even kill people.

And I think that notion is really kind ofkey to how much we value the conservation of these large predators on the landscape, as a nation.

I really see it as a privilege for me to be able to do this work.


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