Washington, May 8 : A team of researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has found that the black bears that become habituated to human food and garbage might not be learning these behaviours exclusively from their mothers, as widely assumed.
They have shown that bears that steal human food sources are just as likely to form these habits on their own or pick them up from unrelated, 'bad influence' bears.
"Understanding how bears acquire behaviour is important in conservation biology and devising strategies to minimize potential human-wildlife conflicts," said Dr. Jon Beckmann, a co-author of the study.
"According to our findings, bears that feed on human food and garbage are not always learning these habits from their mothers," he added.
Working in both the Lake Tahoe Basin on the California-Nevada border and California's Yosemite National Park, the researchers examined genetic and behavioural data for 116 black bears.
They categorized the bears as either food-conditioned or non-food-conditioned.
Researchers also focused on nine mother-offspring pairs to test the assumption that mother bears teach their cubs to invade garbage bins or homes.
They found little evidence linking food-conditioned behaviour with related lineage.
The study indicated that bears might seek out human food as a function of social learning that might be independent of close relatives, or as a habit that is acquired in isolation from other bears.
The study specifically identified the mothers of nine of the bears in the study, of which five did not share the behavioural habits of their mothers.
"These findings can help inform management strategies that would otherwise assume that cubs will always repeat the behaviors of food-conditioned mothers," says Dr. Jodi Hilty, Director of WCS-North America.
"Moving mothers and cubs may have only a limited effect in eliminating human-bear conflicts, which seem to be primarily driven by human food sources that are available to bears," Hilty added.
The study appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Mammalogy.