Will bear cams help bears?

Watching live animals on a webcam can be a pretty cool experience. Maybe you’ve seen the cameras focused on an eagle or osprey’s nest, a beach where seals are sunning themselves or one that captures footage from Alaskan brown bears as they fish for salmon.

Some researchers are trying to figure out if people feel the same emotionally — maybe giddy or downright excited — when they see the Alaskan bears in person compared to watching them on a webcam on their computer.

The researchers think that if people are equally concerned then maybe webcams can encourage an online watcher to get involved in the animal’s conservation and take an interest in the national park or other place where they live.

"We want to engage people, perhaps in urban environments who may not have access to Alaska, and we want to know what that means for the park resources, for the animals, for the ecological conditions and for the visitor experience," explained Ryan Sharp, an assistant professor of park management and conservation at Kansas State University.

In addition to helping stir people to help animals that live in faraway places, such broadcasts may also “help park managers develop new ways to prevent visitor overcrowding at national parks,” the researchers said.

"This reach and technology can really personalize the experience and allow a visitor — whether virtual or real — to be engaged in something that may be five continents away," said Jeffrey Skibins, who is also a KSU assistant professor working on the project. "It is an exciting new way to explore how people can access their national parks and wildlife around their country and around their world."

— Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.