BLACK BEAR SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

 

    Based on 20 years of observing, documenting and experimenting with black bear behavior I have assembled a model of black bear behavior.  Black bears are a society of individuals that share surplus food with both kin and strangers with reciprocity.  To manage this altruistic type of social behavior they have developed complex verbal and olfactory communication systems that allows them to manage social situations with a high level of emotion and intention.  Bears demonstrate the ability to judge and punish which developed to manage their food sharing society.  This form of cooperation formed as a result of the availability and distribution of food in their niche.

     As large omnivores that have evolved in the northern hemisphere, they eat only the highest quality foods.  These foods are unevenly distributed across their range, are subject to annual and seasonal shortages and when they are available they are abundant and last for a short period of time.  No bear or group of bears could dominate a territory that could supply all of their food all of the time.  Female bears have core home ranges which they share with their offspring in which kinship hierarchies develop to manage the sharing.  Sharing with strangers is forced when surplus foods are only available in another bear’s home range.  With the location of the surplus foods constantly shifting there are many opportunities to develop reciprocal relationships.  Bears can live for as many as forty years allowing them long term benefit from relationships formed with fellow cooperators.

      In my first book, “Among the Bears” 2002 Henry Holt NY,NY, I came to an early conclusion that black bear social behavior was remarkably close to the conditions reciprocal altruism defined by Trivers (1971) and kin selection as defined by Hamilton (1964).  With what I’ve learned since then I am making a much stronger case in the book currently in progress and am presenting a model for social behavior in black bears and a theory that the existing social behavior in bears is the basis for modern human behavior.