Holly is Home, Healthy, and Hesitant – UPDATE December 27, 2013

Holly covered with snowHolly covered with snow  Thanks to many people, Holly is home—both to her new residence and to her genetic base.  Arkansas bears carry Minnesota and Manitoba genes.  When Arkansas bear numbers fell to less than 50 in the mid-1900’s, Arkansas traded turkeys for bears and imported over 250 northern black bears in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Arkansas’ black bear population is now estimated to be around 3,000.

Moving Holly inMoving Holly inThat’s one reason we were happy to accept a bear from Arkansas.  It would arrive adapted to our cold northern winters.  Part of that adaptation is growing a coat of underfur in September—earlier than southern bears do.  By late September, Holly already had a dense coat of underfur, which she revealed to us today.   

Holly rubs head on snowHolly rubs head on snowShe came out of her travel box looking healthy, alert, and apprehensive.  Her first act upon stepping out into cold Minnesota snow was to embrace it by rubbing her face in it over and over.  She saw people and clacked her jaws in fear.  She spent most of her first half hour with at least one foot in her box.  She retreated into it over and over but was happy to exercise her freedom by repeatedly rubbing her face, crown, and throat in the snow.  See video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hgbBzFHQkk.

Holly and LynnHolly and LynnLynn was lying 10 feet away taking video for Lily Fans and history.  He made friendly high-pitched grunts like Honey made when she invited Lucky into her den after a summer of chasing him.  Holly eventually decided Lynn sounded friendly enough and was worth checking out.  She timidly came to him.  Lynn extended his hand for her to smell.  The two made their first contact but it was not what Lynn hoped.  In a moment of anxiety, Holly cuffed Lynn’s hand, raised up ready to cuff again, and blew into his camera lens, icing it up.   An hour later, Holly and Lynn were nose to nose through the chain link fence smelling each other’s breath.  But again, Holly prefaced the contact with a lunge and slap against the fence.

Holly peers over boxHolly peers over boxHolly’s exposure to people has been very limited and she is slow to trust.  Making her comfortable will be a challenge.  The key will be getting her to accept the first touch.  As we’ve said, “touch is the universal language.”  Once we can touch her, firmly stroke her back, and then touch her all over, we’ll be on our way to removing her ear tags and working with her in our trusting way.  We expect to get some scratches along the way—especially since she is a cub.  Cub claws are sharper than adult black bear claws.  Grizzly claws, built for digging, not climbing, are the dullest of all.

Holly explores enclosureHolly explores enclosureHolly didn’t seem thirsty.  She hardly ate any snow, and when Lynn offered her a bucket of water she sniffed it but didn’t take a lap.  Actually, it’s no wonder.  The two women who drove her here stopped and offered her water every 6 hours.

After we left, Holly explored her winter quarters and discovered the webcam—which fortunately was well attached.  

Holly at gateHolly at gateHer size and condition tell us Holly obviously ate well and got good care where she came from.  From all we’ve heard, her entire time in captivity was aimed toward releasing her into the wild.  The alternative was euthanasia, so when people fell in love with her they worked beyond the norm to minimize human contact, keep her healthy, and get her back into the wild.  In the end, though, they decided it was best to send her to the big wooded enclosure at the North American Bear Center where she could have a long life as close to the wild as would be practical for Holly.  When we heard the story, we agreed to accept her.  A quote relayed to us from a wildlife official expressed strong respect for the North American Bear Center’s research, education, and love for their bears.  He said, “When I die, I hope to come back as a bear at the North American Bear Center.”

Holly inspects the camersHolly inspects the camersThe staff did a terrific job getting everything ready for today.  It’s their start toward giving Holly, along with Ted, Honey, and Lucky, all the love they have to give.  Accepting a bear like Holly is a major commitment. 

Judy and Ted installing den camJudy & Ted install den camWe’re glad we could loosen the constraints and stream her arrival live to Lily Fans.  We hope Holly settles into the cement bunker den where we can all watch what she does overwinter.  But when we saw the security she felt retreating into her familiar box, we decided to leave it there for her for few days.  We mounted the camera where we can watch how she explores and adapts to this small pen as a step toward hibernating in the bunker den.  Eventually, she will get to explore the big enclosure and meet her new neighbors.

Thank you for all the help you have been giving.

Thank you for all you do.

—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center  

All photos were taken today unless otherwise noted.