Critter cams provide peek into the lives of bears

Cameras on collars recorded 60 hours of rugged video




ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Biologists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game equipped city bears with rugged video cameras attached to collars around their necks last summer, getting a good idea of how the four black and two brown bears spent their time.

The biologists collected 60 hours of video. It shows the bears sleeping, eating gull eggs, walking greenbelts, and licking grease cans and gum stuck on the ground.

Bears are seen salivating over garbage pizza and discarded birdseed, scooping up bivalves from Cook Inlet mudflats and scarfing horsetail and dandelions.

“You’re riding around under their chin, seeing what they do,” said Fish and Game research biologist Sean Farley, who designed the project. “Now we can say, a bear was here and this is what it was doing.”

Not all the collars attached last summer survived. Farley said the brown bears destroyed their collars.

“Critter cams,” as Farley calls the small, durable cameras attached to wildlife, are not new. But video cameras tough enough to withstand riding around on a bear only recently hit the market.

The cameras cost $5,000 each. Biologists programmed them to record 10 seconds of video every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day, for about a month. The collars are engineered to drop off at a designated time. Radio signals are used to locate them.

The cameras also captured some unsettling moments. In one clip, a bear turns the corner of a house and sees a person in the yard. The bear quietly slips away without the person ever knowing it was there.

“The more we know about bears here in urban areas the better we are at managing them,” said Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane.