While conducting an unrelated study on Grizzly Bears’ movements and survival, University of British Columbia Okanagan researcher Dr. Clayton Lamb noticed something unusual.
Four of fifty-seven bears captured were missing toes on a front paw, roughly 7%.
“The first bear we saw could have been an accident or a one-of” said Dr. Lamb.
“We started to realize something else was going on. We wanted to look a little deeper and solve the mystery of the missing bear toes.”
He says after talking with experts across western North America, they quickly realized the bears were getting their toes amputated in traps.
“We were given some photos of bears with traps stuck on their feet and their toes partially falling off. This was that missing link, why the toes were falling off.”
Dr. Lamb says the initial research that showed 7% of grizzlies missing toes may not be accurate, there is not yet enough information across all regions for a proper assessment.
Now that this has been observed, he says there will be more intentional monitoring in other studies involving captured grizzly bears.
“There’s a number of various research projects that are going on for various reasons, we can monitor it that way.”
The traps in question are rarely designed to capture bears.
Marten traps are one of the main culprits, food is placed as bait inside a wooden box where a metal trap is waiting, similar to an oversized mouse trap.
The marten sized box is also a bear-paw sized box, clamping down on toes with a marten killing force.
One of Dr. Lamb’s suggestions is to decrease the size of the openings in these traps so that a hungry bear can’t claw its way inside.
“I can imagine that a lot of people probably find this distressing. I say that this is how science is intended to work, and we learn things that we weren’t even aware of. The next step is to act on that evidence.”
You can find more information on the study here.