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Bear Protector

Rae Wynn-Grant works to help people and predators share the land

Tsalani Lassiter

Rae Wynn-Grant snuggles a black bear to keep it warm after removing it from its den to check its health.

As you read, think about what humans can do to help protect wild animals living nearby.

Rae Wynn-Grant hikes through the woods. She sees a hole in the ground under the snow. There’s a mother bear inside. She’s hibernating. She’ll sleep until spring. Her cubs are snuggled next to her. Wynn-Grant is there to check on the cubs. 

She crawls into the den. She gives the mama bear some medicine. It will keep her asleep. Wynn-Grant takes out the wiggly cubs. It’s cold out, so she tucks the babies into her coat. Her body heat keeps them warm. She gives each cub a checkup. She listens to their heartbeats. 

Rae Wynn-Grant hikes through the woods. She sees a hole in the ground under the snow. There’s a mother bear inside. She’s hibernating. She’ll sleep until spring. Her cubs are snuggled next to her. Wynn-Grant is there to check on the cubs.

She crawls into the den. She gives the mama bear some medicine. It will keep her asleep. Wynn-Grant takes out the wiggly cubs. It’s cold out, so she tucks the babies into her coat. Her body heat keeps them warm. She gives each cub a checkup. She listens to their heartbeats

Wynn-Grant is an ecologist. She studies large predators. These animals hunt other animals. She focused on lions in the past. They live in the African countries of Kenya and Tanzania. Now she studies grizzly bears and black bears in the U.S. She wants to learn how human activity affects them.

Wynn-Grant has another goal. She wants others to know about how cool it is to study nature. She’s a Black woman scientist. She wants young people from different backgrounds to become scientists too. Only 7 percent of people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are Black. Just 6 percent of people in these fields are Latino. Wynn-Grant recently spoke with SuperScience about her work.

Wynn-Grant is an ecologist. She studies large predators. These animals hunt other animals. She focused on lions in the past. They live in the African countries of Kenya and Tanzania. Now she studies grizzly bears and black bears in the U.S. She wants to learn how human activity affects them.

Wynn-Grant has another goal. She wants others to know about how cool it is to study nature. She’s a Black woman scientist. She wants young people from different backgrounds to become scientists too. Only 7 percent of people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are Black. Just 6 percent of people in these fields are Latino. Wynn-Grant recently spoke with SuperScience about her work.

What led you to study predators?

I grew up in San Francisco, California. I loved watching nature shows on TV. But I didn’t know studying wildlife could be a career. When I started college, I had a good mentor who noticed my passion for nature and suggested I study ecology. 

Later in college, I went to Kenya to study wildlife. The cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and lions fascinated me. These predators help to maintain a healthy ecosystem. They keep populations of herbivores under control, so the herbivores don’t eat the landscape bare. 

I grew up in San Francisco, California. I loved watching nature shows on TV. But I didn’t know studying wildlife could be a job. I had a good teacher in college. This person noticed my love of nature. That’s where I got the idea to study ecology. 

I went to Kenya to study wildlife while in college. The cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and lions amazed me. These predators help keep ecosystems healthy. They keep the number of herbivores under control. Otherwise, these plant-eating animals might pick an area bare. 

Peter Houlihan

Wynn-Grant examines a black bear after giving it medicine to keep it asleep.

Why did you shift your focus to bears?

I wanted to compare the lives of large predators in North America and Africa. Like lions, black and grizzly bears often live on the edges of human communities. If these animals cross paths with people, it can lead to conflicts that endanger both bears and people. I work to help people and large predators live peacefully side by side.

I wanted to compare large predators in North America and Africa. Lions often live near humans. So do black and grizzly bears. They can cross paths with people. That can lead to trouble for both bears and people. I work to help both groups live peacefully side by side.

Why do large predators tend to live near humans?

Large predators naturally avoid people. But they want many of the same things as people. They want to be near water. They want food, like fish, nuts, and berries. Bears also eat a lot of leaves and grasses. They head for golf courses, parks, and yards. Those seem like great places for bears to eat. Bears quickly learn that where there are people, there’s food. Things like trash cans, bird feeders, compost piles, and fruit trees attract bears.

Large predators naturally avoid people. But they want many of the same things as people. They want to be near water. They want food, like fish, nuts, and berries. Bears also eat a lot of leaves and grasses. They head for golf courses, parks, and yards. Those seem like great places for bears to eat. Bears quickly learn that where there are people, there’s food. Things like trash cans, bird feeders, compost piles, and fruit trees attract bears.

Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

When bears live near humans, they often seek out food in garbage cans.

How does your work help reduce conflicts between people and bears?

The data I gather in the field tells me where bears live and travel. This is information that communities need if people are going to get better at sharing the land. So I communicate what I have learned about bears in an area with the people who live there. I also explain how human activities, from construction to hiking, can change bears’ habitats and influence their movements.

I gather data in the field. It tells me where bears live and travel. People need to know this information. That way, they can better live alongside bears. I share what I learn with people in the area. I also talk to them about human activities, from construction to hiking. I explain how those things can change bears’ habitats and movements.

Tsalani Lassiter

Wynn-Grant uses a tracker to locate bears wearing GPS collars.

What do you love most about your job?

Winter field work is special because that’s when I focus on baby bears. I put GPS collars on adult female bears in the summer. Then I can find them in the winter when they give birth to cubs. We visit the dens to check on cubs. We place tiny devices under the cubs’ skin that let us track them too. When we return next season, we can check how they’re doing. If they’re thriving, that means their habitat is healthy. If they’re not doing well, something is off in the ecosystem.

Winter field work is special. That’s when I focus on baby bears. I put tracking collars on adult female bears in the summer. Then I can find them in the winter. That’s when they give birth to cubs. We visit the dens to check on the babies. We place tiny devices under the cubs’ skin. The devices let us track the cubes too. We check how the animals are doing when we return next season. We see if they’re doing well. Then we know their habitat is healthy. Otherwise, something is off in the ecosystem.

Craig Chesek/© American Museum of Natural History, All Rights Reserved

Wynn-Grant speaks to students at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

What can people do to protect large predators like bears?

When people and predators share a landscape, people need to take the lead in avoiding conflict. The best way to help bears and other large predators is to learn as much as you can about them.

Sometimes, people and predators share the same area. The people in these places need to take the lead to stop conflicts. Learn as much as you can about bears and other large predators. That’s the best way to help them.

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