Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bear Stun Gun

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I love bears, particularly polar bears, but in a pinch any Ursus arctos (I've seen the taxonomy with and without 'horriblis' on the end) also known as the Brown or Grizzly bear, will do. I am thus drawn to all stories regarding bears, it is a personal bias I suppose.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Taking Patricia McConnell's Biology and Psychology of Human and Animal Behavior course this semester has me thinking a lot about the human role in the lives of other animals (and today in particular, bears.) I took a course at Lehigh to complete my environmental science minor that had more to do with animal rights than McConnell's class but there were some similarities to what I'm studying now. These classes have appealed to me because no matter what your opinion on animal rights or human and animal relationships, I think its important to question and think about these issues..

I say that because once you get your brain into the habit of questioning the things you see, hear, and read you might view things in a very different light. In my daily perusing of the BBC website today I was drawn to the article Company in America Launches Taser 'Bear Stun Gun'. This is the kind of article you could very easily glance over, I mean what could be wrong with giving members of the National Parks Service Tasers to protect themselves? Obviously, park rangers getting mauled by bears is a bad thing.

BUT, my first thought when reading this article was that bears live in the woods, and I wouldn't like it if someone came into my house to take a tour, and then shocked me with a stun gun when I got upset about their presence. So why then is it OK to do it to bears? Tasers used by police have reportedly killed people, so does that make it more or less OK to use it on an animal? While the taser might not be humane due to the acute (sudden onset) pain that it causes, is it a better option than just shooting a bear with a regular gun and killing it? Or would you be doing the bear a favor by killing it (something along the lines of putting it out of its human-induced misery)?

This all then circles back to the question of whether or not people should be in the woods in the first place. Would it be more or less OK to use Tasers on bears if they were used by people who live in towns near forests, who need to occasionally protect their lives or property? In that instance the bear is then in the human habitat, not the other way around so would the violence be justified? Does the bear have an inane right not to be Tased, considering it can't choose to follow or not follow human rules and thus can't know that it has broken them? Should humans assume a guardian role over lesser animals and protect them from the kind of violence we use against each other?

Human taser. Source: Wikimedia Commons. 
I don't intend to answer any of the questions I posed above, the point I'm trying to make isn't for or against the use of Tasers. My point is that even an issue that seems straight forward can have many layers when you tease it apart. Questioning things is one of the easiest ways we have to educate ourselves, especially on science-related issues. I encourage everyone to try to think critically when they see science topics in the news, you might even be surprised by what conclusions you draw.

I would like to give the BBC article's writer Dan Cairns a positive review for explaining how the bear taser works in a clear and concise way. He writes, "Like other Tasers, it delivers an electric shock by shooting two electrode darts attached to conductive wires. The subjects motor nerves are immediately affected and the brain is unable to send signals to the muscles until the charge is turned off."

I wanted to draw attention to this description because this type of background knowledge about how the weapon works is really essential to helping readers determine how they feel about the use of the bear taser. You can't be for or against something you don't understand (well, if politics is any indication you can - but I don't recommend it). Even for a short little news article like this, you need to have background, and I like this article because I think it gives you the information you need to really think critically.


  1. Terrifically thoughtful post, Erin. I'll look forward to reading more of this blog.

  2. All we need is a bunch of yahoos traipsing through the forest looking for a bear to stun into submission. Isn't bear spray enough of a defense, considering we are the ones encroaching on the bear's territory in the first place? I'm also curious as to the relative strength of this device compared to that of a regular Taser. What would be the effect on a human if someone chose to use it in this manner? Find some good bear spray instead at

  3. I would hope that access to the stun gun would be somewhat restricted, at least to trained personnel. I believe the BBC's article stated that the bear stun gun was more powerful than the ones used on humans, so if human ones kill humans I don't want to think about the damage a bear-grade one would do if used on a human. Thanks for commenting!

  4. This is bad news for hairy woodsmen everywhere.

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  6. I keep hearing that "we" go into the bear's house. Newsflash, earth is the planet of all that were born here , including humans. We lived and we still live in the woods (although in small numbers) since earth gave birth to us as a specie. We can and we go wherever we want, the problem is that we need to respect the places we go to, not that we shouldn't go there. And yes if the bear attacks us we should defend ourselves, not kill it if possible, but protect.

  7. Please understand that human are also living on this earth. Just because we don't venture out into the woods doesn't mean that it belongs to the bears.. lions.. or tigers... you should know that upon entering such areas, there is a great risk of being attack. As human, our defense have evolved and we can protect us better than another other species out there.

    I do believe that we have just as much rights as any species out there to enjoy the out doors life, enjoy the wild black berries, the wild raspberry and the wild trouts and the wild salmon.

    As we call it the simpler things in life or our favorite pass time. However, if I was ever to encounter a bear, I would defend myself with the most efficient way I can.. and that will be .50 caliber. I'm not for killing but I wont lay down and get maul. Taser to me is to temporarily disable the danger that's in front of me for a few seconds, and that is not enough for me. I need to make sure the danger in front of me is contain for good.

    There are many views and take on this, but to swing one way or another is just another person's opinion.

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