I’m told that our intern Andie Harveaux did a great job with her presentation last night. She is a worker. Her parents are biologists. Her brother wants to be a biologist. It runs in the family. Here are the promised pictures.
A Lily Fan had a question about the squirrel jumping to hit my hand with its teeth but not bite down. The Lily Fan had a mature female black bear do something with its mouth last summer that made her wonder what was happening. The bear would come up to her and her husband and sometimes put her open mouth on a hand or leg, never aggressively, never with any pressure, just putting her open mouth around her husband’s calf, for example. They said it seemed like a greeting.
I’d say they are right. It is amazing how well people can interpret behavior when they judge it objectively without excessive fear. I’ve seen the same thing. The wild bears we deal with don’t view us that warmly. They mostly ignore us unless we are offering food in exchange for access to a radio-collar to change batteries or something. They have their own lives and we are just a wee part of it. They trust us but don’t seek our company or want closeness. But animals vary. I haven’t seen everything. Captive-raised animals do view their caretakers warmly and want their company and affection. I remember Gerry who was raised in captivity for a couple months before the DNR sent her to me in April of 1989 to place her with a wild mother that I walked with. Gerry and I bonded immediately when I greeted her in bear fashion—touching noses and breathing into her nose so she would know my scent. When I walked with her mother, Gerry looked for opportunities to crawl up on my lap when I sat down to take a note that didn’t fit the computer program. To go back to the truck at the end of a 24-hour walk, I’d have to sneak away. Captive-raised bears like to play with people, something we don’t see in the wild bears we work with—not even June or Lily. Sometimes Gerry would get too rough. I’m not as tough as a bear. The solution was to put my forearm in her mouth to occupy her mouth. During play or friendly greetings, they don’t bite down hard—at least once they get past a year and a half of age. With her mouth occupied, I could grab a paw and roll her over on her back and rub her belly. That seemed to put her in a blissful, less playful mood.
A couple years ago, I went in with big Ted and was feeding and stroking him, standing by his shoulder. He reciprocated. He snaked his foreleg around my calf, held it, and engulfed my thigh with his mouth and just held that position. He didn’t want to let me go. He didn’t try to take me down. He didn’t move his head as to shake my leg. He just wanted to hold it. With his power, he was holding my thigh more tightly than was comfortable, but he wasn’t trying to do any harm. After a minute or two, I tapped him on the head so he’d let go, which he did. He then looked at me with a gentle look and made his friendly high-pitched grunts. He was greeting me, and, anthropomorphic as this might sound, he was filled with affection.
Another time, I lay next to the pond to get a low angle picture of him cooling off about 6 feet away. I gave him an opportunity too good to pass up. He was out of the water and on me before I could get up. I was afraid he would lie on me and make it hard to breath. I only had time to get on my hands and knees. The picture someone took from the balcony showed his arms around me and his head snuggled against my back and side. He wanted affectionate contact.
Same with Gerry, now at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. I had not seen her for a few years, and there were a lot of people surrounding her when I sat down beside her. Others were offering her food, so she was paying attention to that. After a few minutes, she must have got a familiar whiff. She put her nose to my mouth, recognized me, and jumped on me. We ended up rolling around like in the old days in the forest in the wild. It was touching and fulfilling to know she remembered me. There has been talk of a feature film about her for a couple decades now, and a producer mentioned it to me again a week or two ago. I don’t know how they’d make a film of her and get all those behaviors at her age (28); but if they ever could pull it off, it would show a side of bears that most people never see.
Out the window, Ms Marten just paid a visit. She is wild, so she just ignores me as she goes by the window, plainly seeing me but knowing I am of no consequence. I am not something that would interfere with her visit to the date mash. Earlier today, she demonstrated how widely she could open her mouth for a bite of it. Then she glanced at the camera as she was chewing, looking like an open-mouthed beast defending her food—but she was just chewing and didn’t much care that I was recording her for posterity.
Of the dozens of pine siskins, one stands out as having extra yellow. I’ve been wanting to get a good picture of him as an example of how pretty these rather plain birds can be. It’s been hard because he’s often the one that is chased off. But today, he flew in, gave me a moment to aim the camera, and then hopped up on a ridge of snow to show off his yellow the best he could. He showed the yellow patches on his wings and was at an angle to show the yellowish feathers under his tail. His head is slightly blurred by my movement (sacrificing shutter speed for depth of field), but I think it’s the best I’ll get of him unless he is in flight. And it all takes place right outside the window.
Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center