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Melanie Clapham - Identifying Bears

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

Meet Dr. Melanie Clapham

Wildlife Biologist

This Project: Bear ID

Melanie sets up game cameras that take photos of animals day and night.

Melanie Clapham wants to understand how grizzly bears live in the wild. That information helps us protect the bears. But face-to-face (or nose-to-snout) meetings are never good. It would be dangerous. And the bear would act differently if a human were nearby.

So, Melanie has to collect observations from a distance. She can take photos. Or she can use game cameras. They take photos or videos when an animal walks by.

Melanie takes photos of the bears she studies.
Grizzly bearprints are huge!

Back in her office, it’s time to analyze the photos. She needs to be able to know which bear is which. It’s not so easy. Bears don’t have spots or stripes. Their thick, warm winter fur makes them appear much bigger. Their summer coat of shorter fur makes them appear much smaller. How can you tell which bear is in the photo?

To become a wildlife biologist, get outside as often as you can to watch wildlife.

Melanie and her team tried something new. Facial recognition software. Social media platforms use it. That is how they identify friends and family in your photos.

Melanie and her team fed 3,000 photographs of bears to the software. It uses measurements between the eyes and snout. The software has learned to identify which bear is in the photo.

Facial recognition software helps us know each bear as a unique individual.

Now Melanie has a better idea of how many bears live in the area she studies. And she can get to know each individual bear. Where does that bear go? When does it go there? How long does it stay? She can better understand a bear’s life story. Knowing this will help keep our wild grizzly bears safe.

If you think you’d like to be a wildlife biologist like Melanie, she has two pieces of advice.

· Get outside as often as you can to watch wildlife. Try to develop skills in recognizing different species. Even if you live in the middle of a city, there is still plenty of wildlife that share spaces with people.

· Learning how to code is another great idea. There are so many ways to combine computers with conservation.

Melanie’s idea to use facial recognition software is an example of thinking outside the box. She is using computers to bring us closer to our natural world and the bears who live in it.

Photos by permission of Melanie Clapham

Read these books to learn more about bears . . .


by Joel Sartore

Joel Sartore has been face-to-face with a grizzly bear-and lived to tell this and other great tales in Face to Face with Grizzlies. Through stunning photography and engaging storytelling, this expert challenges young readers to coexist with this fearsome creature. Along with his vast experience and knowledge, Sartore's contagious passion for the grizzly shines through on every page of this fascinating book. You can visit Joel Sartore's website to learn more about his Photo Ark books.


by Kay de Silva

Bestselling children's author Kay de Silva presents “Bears". The book uses captivating illustrations, and carefully chosen words to teach children about the ‘fearless hunter'.

This book depicts the wonder of the world of bears in all its glory. Children are given a well-rounded understanding of these beautiful animals: their anatomy, feeding habits, and behavior.

You can visit Kay de Silva's Amazon webpage to see more of her books.


. . . and visit these websites to learn more.


Why do Bears Play? Be sure to browse all the bear links on the North American Bear Center website.

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