Bear News from Sharon Herrell - UPDATE November 5, 2019

Many people ask how did you get your job? Are you a biologist? How do you know so much about bears? The answer is, I was a thirsty student and learned from the “Bearman” and master educator, Dr. Lynn Rogers.LuckyLucky

In 2007, I began an adventure and it turned into a passion. Working with our Ambassador Bears has always been a privilege and an invitation to learn from the bears and apply that knowledge to educating the public on black bear behavior.

My work began at first as the Program Director and as part of that position I was allowed to work directly inside the enclosure with our first three bears. Ted, Honey and Lucky. The learning process of how to raise and socialize a cub became a top priority when Lucky arrived. Ted, always a gentle bear, took good care of Lucky. Honey taught me about respect and patience. In 2012 I took on the position as Bear Curator/Bearkeeper.

Through the twelve years that I have worked here I've seen many different behaviors. I've learned to respect individual personalities, their likes, dislikes, vocalizations (good and concerning) and what their posturing means. I know when they’re happy, not well, and of course in a tempestuous mood. The bears can display different behaviors but it’s usually the human at fault.

My first challenge of being a Bearkeeper was given to me in 2013, when Dr. Rogers talked to me about a little female cub. She was in Arkansas and he wondered if I would be interested in raising a young cub. As I stood outside in a blizzard, -20 degrees talking to him, as he sat in his nice warm van, my excitement mounted. I couldn't wait to see what his decision would be. The answer came just before Christmas when volunteers drove to Arkansas and picked up an 11 month old female cub that was being held in a 3x5 wooden box until her fate was decided. This little female was soon to have a new home; on December 27 Holly arrived at the North American Bear Center and shortly after she hibernated in the larger bunker den.

TedTedI met Holly in late March of 2014. She was a frightened non-trusting small yearling. Her trust issues made her a challenge. The snow was melting and she could now see and smell Lucky. She often perched herself in a corner to watch. I spent hours gaining her trust. A little at a time she moved closer to the fence. Heidi and I worked together to socialize Holly; first with a nutritious bottle of bear formula milk and then touching her. She still relates very well to both of us. A privilege not shared by many.

One of the most difficult times of my position as Sr. Bearkeeper was the death of Honey. Honey moved people. She was authoritative and if she liked you, she liked you, but if she didn't you knew it right away. Honey was a challenge but with determination and respect we became friends. She was my best educator and I have to say it has taken a long time and I'm still not over her loss. The loss of a human or an animal always make life a bit more challenging but the fact is we all grieve and our animals grieve too.

As time passed a new addition to our bear family arrived. Still reeling from the loss of Honey; word came that there was a yearling in deep trouble in Kentucky who desperately needed a home. Dr. Rogers quickly moved to get papers signed and we arranged for volunteers to drive to Kentucky to pick her up. I have thanked Bill & Bitsy Sloan many times for bringing this little bear to us. Bill Sloan passed away before he could visit her again but the joy of this little female bear is a legacy to him.

Tasha has been an absolute delight to work with and to enjoy her little comedic acts that endear her to our visitors. She's the first bear here to use her tub as a chair. If one can remember back, Lucky would also sit in it and with one his head. Holly enjoyed dumping her water just as it was filled.

HollyHollyOf course it’s not all fun. Having the complete responsibility of our ambassador bear is just that. From nose to tail and everything in between I am responsible. You may have heard us coin the phrase, "bear-a-go-round" it’s real here. Bears go on a rotation of in and out times. One has to be on their toes to know who can be out together and that's determined by the time of the year and each individual’s personalities.

Another aspect of care is their nutrition plan. This is especially true when one is raising a young cub like Lucky or an under weight yearling like Holly. Knowing the essentials of milk fat and how to replace mother's milk with a good source of fat and vitamins is vital for growth and well-being.

I try to make their meals nutritious and delicious at the same time. I mix their trail mix and control food intake as much as possible. I have developed a nutrition plan for each bear. Enrichment tools are designed to keep them mentally and physically active.

An important part of my work is to keep detailed notes each day for each Bear. We track and record any and all medications, vet visits and any signification activity. Everything is recorded; it is a constant reminder that our bears are our top priority. Record keeping is also a requirement of the USDA.

In additional to bear care, educating visitors and doing broadcasts, we are also responsible for training new Interns and Bear Educator Volunteers.

I love what I do; I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Thank you all for your support and for watching our bears on the Live Cams and participating in the variety of fundraisers throughout the year.

Looking forward to getting back to our bears in the spring.

Sharon Herrell, Sr. Bearkeeper