Sunday, March 21, 2010

Highlights From The Den

If you haven't been following the Lily the Black Bear den cam over the last couple of months, then you've missed quite a show! With a Facebook following of almost 100,000 fans in only two months, Lily and her cub - named Hope - have seemingly become worldwide sensations and have helped change a lot of people's ideas about what black bears are really like. Now that it's late March, Lily and Hope will be leaving the den soon and leaving the day-to-day lives of their loyal fans, so if you haven't been watching (and, honestly, why haven't you been watching?), now is a good time to give you a peek into what you've missed.

First is a video clip of Lily giving birth to Hope on Friday January 22. This video alone dispelled one myth about bears: that they sleep all winter, give birth in their sleep, and wake up in the spring with cubs. As you can clearly see, Lily is very much awake when the little bundle of joy arrives. After the birth, a bear hunter posted on the Lily Facebook page that he would never again shoot a bear after hearing the cub cry like a human baby.

Next is a "highlight" clip showing mother/daughter moments in the den, Hope being left on her own when Lily goes out to forage. If you listen, now and then you can hear the chipmunk chatter of Hope as she nurses. I believe it's clearest towards the end. This is a sound that bear cubs make to let their mothers know that they're content.

Finally, a clip of Lily and Hope playing in the den. After two months of Hope keeping Lily awake almost every night, Lily turns the tables and Hope doesn't like it very much. This also shows that bears do not sleep all winter. In fact, they're wide awake most of the time and occasionally leave the den to stretch for a few hours.

Over the last week, as the weather's been getting warmer, Lily has been leaving the den more and more, leaving Hope behind to exercise her legs and adjust to Mama's abscence. Hope viciously protested this at first but has become more accepting of it over the past few days as her legs are getting stronger. Finally, early this afternoon, Lily left the den and took Hope with her. Five hours later, they returned for the night. This should be seen as a sign that they will soon be leaving the den for good, so if you haven't watched the Lily cam yet, you should while there's still time. You can view it at either or They're well worth a watch.

Lynn Rogers - owner of the North American Bear Center, near where Lily has made her den - monitors and tracks the movements of the bears in this area by fitting them with radio collars. This should also protect them from hunters, but it doesn't and Lynn has lost several black bears that were supposed to be radio-collar protected. Currently the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is debating on illegalizing the hunting of radio-collared black bears, but it remains iffy as to whether or not they will enforce that law. Lynn is very close with Lily and is doing everything he can to ensure that he doesn't lose her. He visits the den every few days and Lily always comes out to greet him, cooing softly to the cub, assuring her that they are in no danger, but she is wary of people she doesn't know and would not approach a hunter with a gun. That doesn't make her any safer, unfortunately.

To help the Minnesota DNR make the right decision in regards to protecting radio-collared research bears, many of Lily's Facebook fans have been sending them letters and e-mails and signing petitions, hoping to make a difference. Below is a link to a video that I edited and captioned. It's an idea that I had in a dream and it stayed with me for days until I decided to make it a reality. I would love to e-mail it to the Minnesota DNR in the hopes that it might have an impact:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fighting The Grizzly Wars

If one were to sit down and read only the most important books about bears, a good place to stop might be David Knibb's Grizzly Wars, a study of the attempts to preserve grizzly populations in North America and the attempts of the general public and government agencies to drive the last traces of the animal into extinction. In many ways, the book would make the perfect summation of one's own personal bear education.

The story begins with the mysterious sightings of grizzly bears in Washington's Cascade Mountains, the slowly mounting evidence that a small population of grizzlies may be trying to re-establish itself there, and the efforts - some almost desperate - of Fish and Game wildlife managers to sweep it all under the rug, despite the presence of some undeniable evidence. With the Bush Administration's removal of the grizzly from the protection of the Endangered Species Act (citing it as a waste of tax dollars), the fight begins, following U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who were unlucky enough to be given the job of challenging that removal and standing up for the rights of an animal that is feared and hated by so many.

At a public meeting, one of these hapless officials was confronted by an elderly woman. "So you're one of those bastards in favor of grizzly bears," she said. She railed and cursed at him for a few minutes, telling him that he would be responsible for the death of her grandchildren, and then she spit on him....and that was only the beginning of the meeting! By evening's end, he had received NINE death threats, including a man who swore that he would be waiting outside the building with a gun at the end of the gathering, a threat that was fortunately only a bluff.

As the meetings went on, so did the opposition. Fear caused by misconception ruled the hearts and minds of the public, who proclaimed the grizzly to be nothing more than a murderous killer and that if there were any in the Cascades, they should be hunted down and destroyed. It's telling that most of these ideas came from people who did not live in bear country and whose ideas were fueled by Hollywood theatrics, whereas the biggest support came from those who did live in bear country and who did not consider the grizzly something to be feared. Finally, a nationwide poll showed that 97% of the country favored restoring grizzly populations. Unfortunately, America is no longer a country in which the people have a voice, so the government and wildlife officials persisted in brushing aside the issue. Jon Almack, a state wildlife manager, says that he personally observed a "strategy within the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to deny, discount, and dismiss the evidence about Cascades grizzlies." Wildlife managers know that if they continue to deny even the most irrefutable of evidence that they can delay grizzly recovery for as long as possible, maybe even until there is no longer a species left to recover. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee now estimates that it could take as long as two hundred years to restore grizzlies to the Cascades.

This is a shocking prospect! The idea that wildlife managers, who are supposed to be for the protection of wildlife - especially endangered wildlife - would instead be stalling the issue until it's too late, is difficult to fathom but it's exactly the reason why this book would be the perfect summation to your own bear education, because it drives home just how important that education is. I've read volumes on both sides of the bear bandwagon and taking all of that information and putting it together as a whole has been a revelation! This book shows what can happen when that information doesn't come together. Bears are too complex to focus on only one side of their story; it must be taken as a whole. This is a field of study that is about to blow wide open and most people either don't know or don't care and that's precisly what leads to some of the attitudes in this book. It's partly because of those attitudes that the book was written in the first place. It's why I started this blog. The book doesn't end with much hope except to say that progress will never be made unless people are properly educated and are made to see that living with the grizzly is a blessing, not a curse. That's the goal we're working towards but it's going to be a long road getting there.

Is a Fed Bear Really a Dead Bear?

Putting the final cap on the habituation vs. food conditioning argument, here is a link to an excellent article by Dr. Lynn Rogers who manages the North American Bear Center in Minnesota, home of the Lily the Black Bear den cam. Some of Lynn's ideas in this article are not very popular with wildlife managers and that's one of the things I like the most about it. It's going to be hard - maybe even impossible - to win people over to this way of thinking, but it's still a battle worth fighting.