Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bear Society

Ben KilhamBen Kilham has a knack for bears. North American black bears, specifically. He loves them, he understands them, he spends many days with them each year, he has raised orphan cubs. Most importantly, he pays close attention to them.

By paying attention, he has come to know, and has described, bear society. Bears are social animals, he says, and have a complex society based on altruistic sharing of food. He knows at least some of their language and he has observed their interactions.

But while Ben Kilham may have a knack for bears, he does not have "scientific" credentials. So, those who do have such credentials feel free to ignore him and what he says. Never mind that what he says makes sense. Never mind that his observations are so thorough and astute that he discovered something that no scientist ever knew before: that bears have an olfactory organ in the roof of their mouths (similar to the Jacob's Organ in cats, for example).

What's incredible to me is that scientists cling to their conclusion that bears do not interact socially; that they are solitary animals. This is based on nothing more than the fact that no scientist has observed bears closely enough to notice their society. Anyone with any interest in logical thought knows that lack of evidence is not proof of anything. Science has jumped to a conclusion about bears' behavior based on lack of evidence.

Ben Kilham has the first-hand evidence, and it makes sense. Science tells us that many different animals live solitary lives, but I believe that if these animals were really and truly observed it would be discovered that they actually have complex societies. Take tigers. "Everybody knows" that they live solitary lives in the wild. But they are extremely difficult to observe in the wild and of necessity have extremely large ranges. They have a complex vocal language, they get along well with each other in captivity--why should anyone conclude that they do not naturally have their own society?

Thankfully, Ben Kilham is not daunted. He is willing to give lectures on what he has learned about bears. He continues to observe, and film, and write about them. He's doing what he can to improve the world's knowledge of bears. Let's hope science one day will decide to pay attention.

Ben Kilham has his own site at benkilham.com.

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