University of Saskatchewan

September 16, 2014   

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Johan Lindsjo (photo by Liam Richards)
September 05, 2006

Student mingles with bears
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
(>Fourth in a Series)
By Jeremy Warren
For The StarPhoenix

When the helicopter lands in the western Alberta bush, student Johan Lindsjo and the rest of the research team move quickly to anesthetize the bear caught in their baited trap.

Typically, the team anesthetizes a bear long enough to take blood, skin and hair samples and to attach ear and collar transmitters, then releases the bear into the wild.

The team is measuring various grizzly bear health indicators such as growth, immunity, reproduction and longevity -- information that will help predict the effects of landscape change and human activity on the health of grizzly bears living throughout western Alberta.

This time it turns out that the captured bear is a brown-coloured black bear -- not a grizzly bear cub.

But suddenly, just metres away from the trap, an adult grizzly rears up on its hind legs and stares at the crew, before disappearing into the thick forest.

"If this grizzly bear had just arrived to check out and possibly attack and eat the captured black bear, well, we don't know, but maybe we just arrived in the nick of time," says Lindsjo.

It's all in a day's work for Lindsjo, a 36-year-old graduate student in veterinary pathology who is working on the project with his supervisor, Marc Cattet.

Lindsjo, who left a comfortable job as a veterinarian in a small animal clinic in his native Sweden a year ago, now helps out in the scientifi c fi eld season learning how to trap and handle wild grizzly bears.

"Field work is more exciting -- you have to improvise and be prepared for different circumstances," he says, noting that as a precaution, a shotgun is kept on hand while researchers check the traps.

"The chance you'll be hurt by a bear is very small.

But when you handle them, you have to respect them as powerful animals and the danger they pose." Two other groups in the Foothills Model Forest Grizzly Bear Research Program are mapping landscape change and measuring stress in the bears.

The three groups will combine their data to provide more information for policy-makers and for businesses wanting to develop land without causing adverse effects on resident grizzly bear populations.

"There are areas still fairly untouched by human activity. We can research developed areas and compare that to less-developed areas. The more development happens without knowing the implications, there is less chance for a species to maintain healthy populations," Lindsjo says.

Does that mean it's too late for animals already living in highly developed areas? "If it's a question of are we too late, the answer is no," he says. "But we better hurry." For Lindsjo, living at a fi refi ghters' camp in Alberta while working with wild grizzly bears is the fulfi lment of his youthful dream to work with animals and nature.

Prior to coming to the U of S, he had done volunteer work in Thailand and India that involved two species of bears -- the Asiatic black bear and the Malayan sun bear. Though he had no previous wildlife experience, he also worked with other confi scated animals such as primates, reptiles and tiger cubs.

Lindsjo's research, partly funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, is allowing him to work alongside respected researchers from other academic disciplines.

"I'm glad to be part of research that hopefully results in some positive changes in the grizzly bear's environment."

(This article is part of a partnership initiative between The StarPhoenix and University of Saskatchewan Research Communications Office to highlight the work of student researchers and showcase the efforts of student writers and photographers.)


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