A Washington State University study found that even bears need a balanced diet

A Washington State University study found that even bears need a balanced diet

Years ago, bear researcher Charles Robbins noticed something strange in Alaska.

The Washington State University professor of wildlife biology has been studying bears during the fall, when large orcins have unlimited access to salmon. Salmon, a fish so dense in calories and nutrients that entire human cultures congregate around species that live in the oceans.

For bears preparing for winter hibernation, the annual fish wealth is key to packing in the pounds to get through the long winter.

However, despite all this abundance, Robbins notes that bears spend upwards of eight hours a day eating berries, and during those times, they completely ignore drop fish.

Salmon is just full of protein. loaded with energy. A very complete diet. While berries are a very incomplete diet,” Robbins said. “They were working on removing their tails (to get berries) and it just didn’t make sense to us.”

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This field observation reached its climax years ago in a study published in Scientific Reports I found in September that bears of all stripes are not nearly as carnivorous as previously thought. Instead, when given a choice, the bears prefer a balanced diet. In fact, bears in captivity gain the most weight (a good indicator of health in their condition) when fed a mixture of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

“Bears are not strictly carnivores like a cat where they eat a high-protein diet,” Robbins said. “In zoos forever, be it polar bears, brown bears or sloth bears, the recommendation has been to feed them as if they were a high-protein carnivore. When you do that, you slowly kill them.”

He found that polar bears in zoos usually die 10 years earlier than they should, and they often die of kidney and liver disease. These two diseases can develop from long-term inflammation of those organs, which is likely the result of many years of unbalanced diets.

Robbins, founder of the WSU Bear Center, the only research institution in the United States with a captive group of grizzlies, has studied bear feeding for decades. While his research did not look directly at black bears, the bears most common in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, he said that when they can, black bears eat a diet nearly identical to black bears (brown bears are bears that live in the coastal Alaskan regions ).

Robbins said the research has clear implications for zoos, but it could also affect the management of wild bears in the western United States. In most discussions of what wild bears need, salmon dominate the discourse. While salmon is an integral part of a bear’s diet, Robbins noted that his research shows that berries, especially cranberries, are almost essential.

“Salmon is very important,” he said. “But it’s just a lot of protein. They need to mix it in with the berries.”

He would like to see the US Forest Service more tightly controlled commercial berry picking. Commercial berry picking is not permitted on Forest Service grounds, but there is a shadowy industry that provides restaurants and stores gallons of berries during harvest season. Cranberry has not been successfully grown.

From a broader perspective, Robbins said his research shows that “the entire ecosystem needs to be managed.”

“They have the knowledge to make those decisions,” he said of the bear’s food choices. They have evolved over 50 million years in making these everyday decisions. It just shows that they know a lot more than we knew at the time.”

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