As Smart as a Bear

There are more articles emerging that analyze intelligence and emotional expression in animals, as scientists are discovering that animals are intelligent enough to solve problems, are self-aware, and make complex decisions. However, most of these studies focus on primates (apes and chimpanzees), elephants, canines (dogs and wolves), and corvids (crows and jays).

Even though they are an adaptive and generalist omnivore (like us) that demonstrates intelligence when problem solving to access food, black bears (Ursus americanus) haven’t been studied extensively when it comes to intelligence. A recent article published in the Sierra Magazine looks at a 20-year-old study where Ben Kilham, a bear rehabilitator in New Hampshire, studied the social behavior and intelligence of the bears in and around his rehabilitation facility. Through his observations, Kilham discovered that bears have a matrilineal social dynamic that spans generations, where the oldest female in the group is in charge, and she appears to teach other bears in the group how to solve problems and adapt to find food.

This study opens the doors to future research to study bear intelligence and cognitive function. Bears and other carnivores are not usually studied for their intelligence. However, studies like this may help us learn how to coexist more successfully with our carnivore neighbors in Nevada.

What other wildlife do you think are as smart as a bear?

Jessica Whalen

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