Sunday, May 4, 2008

Human Shields

The term human shield has a bit of a bad connotation for humans, but not for moose. In a paper published in Biology Letters, Joel Berger reports that in Yellowstone moose birth sites have shifted "away from traffic-averse brown bears and towards paved roads."

Berger goes on to write, "The decade-long modification was associated with carnivore recolonization, but neither mothers in bear-free areas nor non-parous females altered patterns of landscape use. These findings offer rigorous support that mammals use humans to shield against carnivores and raise the possibility that redistribution has occurred in other mammalian taxa due to human presence in ways we have yet to anticipate."

The reason I found this interesting is that I observed similar behavior in a mule deer during a backpacking trip to the same location. My friends and I noticed that this deer (whom we nicknamed Homie) followed us to our campsite, hung around camp all evening, and was even spotted the next day. That evening and the next morning we saw no fewer than four grizzly bears, and I later found out that this area was one of the most heavily grizzly trafficked areas in all of Yellowstone. We jokingly suggested Homie was using us to fend off the grizzlies. At the time I thought it was more likely that the Homie was looking for handouts, but now I have to wonder!

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