How to save a bear's life by zapping it with electricity

Grizzly bears in Alberta like to linger around train tracks because rail cars often trickle bits of grain and other food. Trains and bears are are obviously a bad combination. But a new device called an 'electromat' could help to protect this endangered species.

Since 2007, a total of 13 grizzlies have been killed by trains in Banff National Park. It's critical that bears be helped in this area as there's only about 700 left in the entire province of Alberta. To that end, Parks Canada and the Canadian Pacific railway company are collaborating on a project to prevent grizzly deaths on the railway tracks.

The test site where bait was left for the bears.

How to save a bear's life by zapping it with electricity

Part of the plan involves setting up fences along the tracks. Trouble is, bears can still get through the openings. This is where the electromat comes in — an electrified area that gives the bears a nasty shock when they step on it. The Calgary Herald reports:

“So far, we’ve had four attempts by grizzly bears, three different animals. One tried twice and, in all cases, they were repelled from the site,” David Gummer, wildlife biologist with Banff National Park, said Wednesday. “They didn’t test the mat again, but some of them did come back to the area. They were clearly still attracted, but unwilling to try the mat again.

And indeed, the bears are learning to stay away from the mats:

Gummer said No. 122 — a large male grizzly bear that made national headlines last summer after he ate a black bear — has visited both of the test sites.

At the first one, he was shocked by the electromat.

“We have all that recorded on camera,” explained Gummer. “He lingered around the site, unwilling to cross the mat. Later in the year, he visited the other site and wasn’t willing to test the mat there, either. So that’s very interesting.”

CP has budgeted $10 million towards the five-year project which will implement this and other ideas, including reducing the amount of grain spilling from trains, adding whistles in high-risk areas, and adding on-board camera systems to record collisions.

Of course, the mats will also shock any other animal that dares to cross it. But it's mild enough to not cause any serious or permanent injury.

[ Calgary Herald | Photos courtesy Parks Canada, Calgary Herald]