Quirks & Quarks

What well-watched wildlife does when humans aren't around

Researchers are using COVID-19 lockdowns to study how ecotourism changes bear behaviour in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Researchers are using COVID-19 lockdowns to study how ecotourism changes bear behaviour

Researchers set up 70 remote cameras to study the bears in the Great Bear Rainforest, including the ultra rare Spirit Bear, which is unique to this forest. (Spirit of Suffolk)

The Great Bear Rainforest covers 6.4 million hectares on the coast of British Columbia. It's the largest intact temperate rainforest remaining in the world, and is sometimes called the Amazon of the North.

In a typical year, it's packed with tourists, looking to enjoy this natural wonder.  And prime among the attractions are the bears: black and grizzly bears, but perhaps most of all, the unique white "spirit bears."

Spirit bears are a rare, white-furred variant of the black bear, found only along the coast of British Columbia. 

"When you when you see them in the forest, they actually are quite striking because they look a little bit out of place. They're pretty ghostly in these sort of dark, dark green forests," biologist Christina Service told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. "But they hold tremendous cultural value for for local communities, and increasingly, economic value in the form of bear viewing and ecotourism." 

Spirit Bears are the result of a recessive gene in black bears — similar to the gene that produces red hair in humans. Recent genetic studies show that the gene is even more rare than previously thought. (Doug Neasloss)

But this year was different. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most tourist activities in the area were cancelled, so for the first time in a long time, the area was off-limits to most humans.

So this summer, Service took to the forest to study what the bears get up to when humans aren't around. Her team set up 70 remote cameras throughout the rainforest, and just recently trekked back through the forest to collect their scientific bounty.

Service is a Wildlife Biologist for the Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nation Stewardship Authority. You can hear her conversation with Bob McDonald at the link above.

Produced and written by Amanda Buckiewicz