The accompanying image was previously dismissed as a legend: a polar bear kills a walrus by throwing down a block of stone or ice. This would mean that polar bears use tools to reach their prey, and the use of tools is a sign of intelligence….. And are bears intelligent? Actually something that children have always claimed about their teddy bears. However, from the 18th century until today, Inuits have also reported this particular form of intelligence in polar bears.
In a recently published report, this has now been classified as probably corresponding to the truth after allbased on the observation of a polar bear named GoGo at Tennoji Zoo in Osaka. Especially the latter observation series, but also observations on brown bears prove that bears are indeed able to conceive the use of a tool and then also use it to develop new food sources.
The case of 6 captive brown bears is particularly impressive. They independently used the same tools in different ways to solve the problem of how to get bait. At a later stage of the experiment, four of the six bears even chose novel tools that were still unknown to them. This clearly suggests the presence of a problem-solving concept and is not simply a rote memory of what has been done before. This problem-solving behavior would even be comparable to that of chimpanzees.
The reports of Inuit hunters suggest that polar bears in the wild can do all this as well. There are also reports of a polar bear using a rock to harmlessly trigger a foot trap. Possibly he was caught like this at an earlier time and has now found a solution to avoid the trap and still get to the meat in the trap. So the myth of the polar bear throwing ice blocks is highly likely to be true, even if it is a very rare event and the polar bears only do this when hunting walrus because their size and their “weapons” make it very difficult to catch them.
Unfortunately, due to the steadily decreasing habitat of the polar bears, it is now becoming more and more difficult to observe their behavior in the wild. But perhaps the animals are so intelligent that they can cope with the climate crisis for which they are not responsible. But we shouldn’t rely on that, we should use our own intelligence so that these beautiful animals can continue to live and hunt in the wild.
- Stirling A. 2021 Do Wild Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) Use ToolsWhen Hunting Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus)? Arctic Vol 74 (2): 175-187
- Waroff, A.J., et al. 2017. tool use, problem-solving, and the display of stereotypic behaviors in the brown bear (Ursus arctos). Journal of Veterinary Behavior 17:62-68.