Touching Memories Relived - UPDATE June 22, 2020

The last couple days brought back touching memories of my best days with bears, making me again thankful for the bears that accepted me and revealed their lives to me in ways that would not be possible in any other way.

Two evenings ago, I saw a bear in the distance in the fading light and wondered who it was. It looked big enough to be a male, and I spoke to it to see how it responded as a first clue to who it might be. “Come bear,” I said gently. It immediately came straight toward me with its eyes on me, its ears toward me, moving with confidence. It was a bear who knew me. Two feet away, I offered it food. It sniffed my hand, rejected the food, and looked me in the eyes. Unusual. I offered the food again. Same reaction. Eventually, it accepted food, and I put it on the ground. Walked behind it and realized that it was no male that I could identify. It was a female, and the looks were wondering why we didn’t touch noses like we began doing when Ursula was a newborn cub in her natal den back in 2005. I came back in front of her and complied, feeling wonderful that she preferred that greeting and closeness over food. It also explained her confident fast walk to me. She knew my voice. I stroked her down the back, grateful for everything about her.

Ursula coming with confidenceUrsula coming with confidence

Memories continued today. I saw another bear I didn’t recognize. She had a light muzzle quite a lot like Lily’s but no white dot and seemed too small to be her. Yet she knew me and was immediately comfortable. I guessed it was Faith that I had all but given up for dead—except for a shred of hope that she had escaped hunters in the nearly roadless area she had selected for her distant territory. I believe it has been some 4 years since I’ve seen her or heard of her being seen. She looked too small for a 9-year-old, but her mammaries were those of a mother who had more than one litter. Given the fact that Faith had David and Allen in 2015, she’s had time for two more litters by now, and she was on schedule to have just gone through family breakup in the last month. It was interesting that she gave up the nutrition available in this community that has been feeding bears since 1961 and chose a life of less than optimal nutrition. But now, she was back, for a bit at least, bulking up for a winter of giving birth and making enough milk for her next litter to get a good start.

Faith at 9 years oldFaith at 9 years old

Then I saw Lily for the first time this year. She did her usual. She ignored me. She showed no fear but had her own agenda. She was sniffing the ground and leaves and branches. She was listening intently in every direction but toward me. Then she walked on, caring nothing about food and reuniting. I followed. It was like a decade ago. I was walking 5-10 feet behind her, an 81-year-old trying to duck under obstacles and keep firm footing on rocks and uneven ground. She wasn’t traveling to a destination, she was meandering and exploring more like she was looking for another bear (a preferred mate?) or learning who was around. Then she got on a big downed tree and walked the length of it while I looked for a way to keep up without getting on the fallen tree with her. She disappeared, leaving me again feeling grateful for our history and continued recognition and trust. The fact that she ignores me is what allowed the team and I to learn so much from her.

Lily on a mission with me in towLily on a mission with me in tow

An interesting side bit of information is how she has refuted so many old beliefs about how a bear that has lost so much fear of humans behaves. She does not come up to people for food. She has not generated a single nuisance bear complaint in her entire 13 years of life. She has never shown aggression toward people. Never attacked anyone. She just goes about her life as if people are inconsequential. This could scare people who fear bears, but she herself is not a danger. When she was going through the woods today with me crunching sticks to keep up as she would stop to listen ahead, she never so much as glanced at me. Her attention was fully on her surroundings, the unknowns, and what might be ahead. I would think she’d be irritated that I was sometimes rustling when she wanted to hear. But she never showed it. Just like the old days.

Thank you, Lily. Thank you, bears.

And thank you all for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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