WSU researchers look to find what makes grizzlies happy



Posted on October 18, 2012 at 3:08 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 22 at 2:58 PM

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Researchers at Washington State University are studying ways to make sure animals are as happy as they can be in captivity.

PHD candidate Heidi Keen performs ground-breaking work at Washington State University's Bear Research Center.

Keen's research is unique. She's working to find out what makes captive grizzly bears happy.

The grizzlies at WSU are unable to return to the wild because they were either nuisance bears or born in captivity.

To help figure out how the bears feel, Keen uses several tools.  She shows the bears flash cards in different shades of gray. They respond to the different colors by touching the fence with either their paw or their nose. Whichever they choose determines how many apple slices they get, giving researchers insight into the bear's mood.

“When they're in a positive mood, they're more likely to go for broke, as we say, and try and get that large apple reward," Keen said.

Keen also gives the bears different toys which she calls "enrichment items”.

Do bears have bad days? Keen has learned that the grizzlies are pretty optimistic.

Keen is working to make every day happier for the grizzlies and all animals in captivity.

The scientists at WSU will bring their findings to zoos.