Habituation, Imprinting and Other Often Misunderstood Terms
The body condition of a bear is an assessment of the bear's weight relative to his age and height ratio, and his proportion of muscle and fat. A bear cub's weight should only be assessed using a scale, and his body condition should only be assessed by a professional rehabilitator or associated veterinarian. Weight or body condition should never be used as the sole criteria for suitability of entry into rehabilitation. All developmental and environmental circumstances must be considered.
Enrichment is the provision of environmental complexity that allows the captive animal to utilize his environment by making choices and expressing normal behaviors that he would in his wild habitat. Some examples include; scattering foods so the bear has to search for it, providing furniture such as logs for climbing and lounging, and providing bedding material such as leaves and grasses to make day beds out of. Providing materials for bears to interact with is extremely important for bears of all ages but especially for cubs because they are going through significant brain development during the period of rehabilitation.
Habituation is identified operationally as a decrease in responding resulting from repeated stimulation. Shettleworth 2010 The state of being habituated to something is not permanent. Habituation is about learning. For example, a female bear with cubs has been teaching her cubs to eat at a municipal garbage dump. She and the cubs have learned that nothing of significance happens to them in the presence of noisy trucks and humans dumping their garbage. The bears have therefore become habituated to those events while searching for food. The mother will teach her cubs to look for food somewhere else when the dump is fenced in and is no longer accessible as a food resource. However, she may go back numerous times to recheck the dump site to make certain that it is still inaccessible. It is this checking behavior that is often misunderstood and the bear is erroneously thought to be irreversibly 'habituated' to that site and/or human foods and is labelled a 'trouble bear'. Authorities may choose to euthanize the mother and her cubs in the mistaken belief that they will not learn other behaviors. Orphaned cubs of mothers that have been feeding in human habitats can be rescued, taught new foraging behaviors during the rehabilitation process through natural enrichment programming, and be successfully released elsewhere.
In the context of wildlife rehabilitation, husbandry refers to the species-specific care and feeding of captive wildlife befitting their daily and seasonal needs as dictated by their genetic requirements. see Behavior-based Husbandry
In the 1950s Konrad Lorenz observed that precocial birds like ducks will follow their mother or a moving object, shortly after hatching, which keeps them from running away. He erroneously concluded that this process called imprinting is a form of learning that is different from normal learning processes, that it is not reversible, and that it is related to breeding behaviors observed much later in life. Today, researchers have identified that imprinting is not distinctive from other forms of learning and it is not a permanent state. The urge to follow a mother or a moving object into the water or elsewhere is overridden with new information as the young animal learns and matures. In addition, the composition of sexual preferences likely involves other processes. Imprinting has only been identified in various bird and reptile species. There is no evidence of imprinting in bears. Shettleworth 2010
Pacing is a repetitive behavior known as a stereotypy. A stereotypic behavior shows little variation, outwardly appears to serve no function, and is often a normal response to stress. Pacing behaviors exhibited by bear cubs in rehabilitation most often have a cause or an onset. A bear cub may pace for many reasons such as: i/ fear, confusion, or loss, ii/ hunger, iii/ pain, iv/ he is not in an enriched environment, or v/ he does not have other cubs to socialize with. When the problem causing the pacing is resolved such as i/ removal of what has made the cub afraid, ii/ being fed, ii/ identifying and relieving the pain, iv/ giving the cub things to do, or v/ putting the cub in with another bear cub then the pacing behavior will stop. Other forms of repetitive behavior in bear cubs must not be confused with a stress response, specifically play behavior. In play a bear cub will often repeat the same behavior over and over such as jumping into a pool, getting out and jumping in again at exactly the same location over and over. There are also medical reasons such as brain damage or illness that may cause a repetitive behavior. The appearance of a stereotypy or pacing behavior does not make the bear unsuitable for release at the conclusion of the rehabilitation period in and of itself. With the exception of medical problems, unresolved pacing behaviors tend to disappear upon release. However, the rehabilitator must make a concerted effort to identify the problem and rectify it.
Rabies is a fatal viral disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain. It is rarely observed in bears. In a study, bears were found to be more resistant to the rabies virus than canine species. Wild orphaned bear cubs have been mistakenly identified as being rabid due to a build-up of white froth around the mouth area. Bears do not have many active sweat glands. They cool off like dogs do by i/ panting and ii/ moving into a cooler environment. A stressed overheating cub that is panting can form froth around the mouth area giving the appearance of 'foaming at the mouth'. The cub may also drool extensively due to panting.
A wildlife rehabilitator is an individual or organization that is licensed by government authorities to rescue, rehabilitate, and release local indigenous wildlife back into the animals' natural habitat. A wildlife rehabilitator does not allow public or private viewing of the animals in its care. With the exception of some government sanctioned or operated programs designed to reintroduce endangered or locally extinct species, rehabilitation facilities do not breed wildlife. Professional wildlife rehabilitators are members of professional associations such the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association NWRA or the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council IWRC.
A sanctuary is an establishment that provides lifetime care for animals that have been abused, injured, abandoned, or are otherwise in need. The animals may come from sources including, but not limited to, private owners, research laboratories, government authorities, the entertainment industry, and zoos. There is/are; no captive breeding, no commercial trade, no unguided tours, no animal exhibition, and no direct public/animal contact Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries GFAS
The term zoo refers to a zoological facility that houses animals for public display to promote public education, conservation, and non-invasive research. Accredited facilities work to maintain high standards of captive animal care initiate and support conservation efforts, and develop and deliver significant public education programs. Association of Zoos & Aquariums AZA, European Association of Zoos and Aquariums EAZA, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums WAZA
Sentience is the ability to receive sensations and to experience positive and negative emotions regarding events that have significance to the being. 'Do animals have feelings?' is a question that has been asked by humans for hundreds of years. Recently, the public, philosophers, and researchers are agreeing that the preponderance of scientific and anecdotal evidence of highly complex behaviors more than suggests that animals are sentient. Hosey 2013
In the context of wildlife rehabilitation, animal welfare is often used interchangeably with quality of life. The welfare of an animal is the animal's condition in relation to its ability to cope with its current environment. Broom 1986
The term aversive conditioning is used in the field of wildlife rehabilitation to define a process of presenting a sub-adult bear (for example) with an aversive stimuli such as using loud bangers, pursuing barking dogs, or shooting the bear with rubber bullets or bear spray to get the animal to associate a bad experience with humans upon his release. The overall effectiveness of these efforts range from not at all to short-term. The problem with this technique is that it relies on the bear to make the correct association i.e. that being around humans is bad and thus the animal is supposed to choose to not frequent human habitats for the rest of his life. If the animal is already leaving the area during a release, the wanted behavior is actually occurring, now the hazing becomes a punishing behavior and is a welfare concern. If the bear does not leave the area right away (since he does not know what the human agenda actually is and that he is being released), hazing can end up teaching the bear a completely different association than what was planned. For example, he may learn that the Fish and Wildlife officer who smelled like aftershave is a 'very bad man' to be avoided at all costs or the dogs that chased him were called off by the humans and nothing came of it.
The term Anthropomorphism means to interpret the characteristics of a non-human object (animal or object) according to human characteristics only. The concept is not based on scientific rigor but on supposition and assumes that humans and animals do not share any characteristics. Its application to human/animal interactions and understanding begs the question: what is an exclusively human characteristic? Today, science recognizes that humans and animals share more features than just plumbing (metabolism, respiration, circulation). We share features of sentience. As a result the term Critical Anthropomorphism is now being used to explain and accept that humans use their senses to hypothesize about an animal's behavior or state based on what is known about that species and how it perceives its world. Burghardt 2007
A conditioned response is a learned reflexive response. The famous experiment in which Pavlov taught dogs that the ring tone of a specific bell meant that they would be fed resulted in the dogs salivating whenever they heard the bell. The salivation is the learned (or conditioned) reflexive response. Food Conditioned is a term erroneously used to define a bear's daily or weekly foraging activity in a human populated area in response to the presence of food resources such as garbage. This foraging activity is not a learned reflexive response, it is a planned activity based on the learned knowledge that food may likely be present at a certain location at intervals. In addition, it is erroneously thought that Food Conditioned bears continue to frequent human habitation as their conditioned response is irreversible. In fact, bears will cease to frequent human habitats when the food resources are no longer available. Thus, when humans become better custodians of their food resources and/or garbage bears move on to other feeding grounds.