How could you?
Yesterday I spent the morning writing about the unethical behavior of some hunters who have ringed the property with bait at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ely Minnesota with the approval of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
This morning I learned that this egregious behavior has already resulted in the death of at least one yearling near the WRI property line. Dr. Lynn Rogers of WRI has spent his entire professional career as a bear biologist studying and advocating for Black bears, while attempting to educate the public about the true nature of these animals. Lynn has incited the rage of hunters and the Minnesota state wildlife agency (DNR) in the process (Currently, his scientific study centers on the effects of diversionary feeding for black bears and people). Black bear hunting is big business and if the truth got out people might be much more reluctant to shoot these shy peace – loving animals.
The majority of all black bears that are killed range between 1 -3 years of age. Why anyone would shoot a yearling is beyond my comprehension. Yearlings range from 30 to 100lbs. It’s not as if a bear this size can be displayed as a ‘great’ trophy. Young bears are the most vulnerable prey because they are so inexperienced. Many have not yet learned to fear humans.
Emotionally depleted by dishonorable individual and bureaucratic behavior and the knowledge that so many more young bears will be slaughtered during the three – month hunt I take refuge in the memory of happier days spent with one of the young bears on this property by telling his story.
TB, short for “Tree Bear,” is a yearling who visited my house all summer. He and his sister, Rosie Marie were left to fend for themselves last May by their mother, when it was time for her to mate (a normal occurrence). At present, although healthy looking, TB does not weigh more than 70 LBS (his little sister is very slight weighing no more than 40 LBS).
I believe that all bears are initially wary of humans but have to be taught by people to fear them and TB and his sister are no exception. It took me about 10 days to befriend TB; his natural curiosity and intelligence won out. Soon TB was wandering around the yard while I was outdoors hanging up laundry and leaving muddy paw – prints on my front door. We co-existed here in peace.
Some days when company arrived TB would peer around his surrogate white pine tree to see who it was that I was talking to. Like all bears TB loves to play and uses whatever objects he can find to amuse himself. One of his favorites is an old can that he rolls down the hill and then chases into the thick brush. I also provided him with a couple of beach balls that he punctured instantly. TB also loves to lie on his back and twirl sticks around, which brings me to an incident that still makes me laugh.
One evening TB was digging grubs out of an old log on the pine needle strewn ground when a large adult bear appeared. TB like all yearlings was afraid of the adult male and scurried up his white pine tree settling in its protective branches, while peering down at the intruder. When the big bear settled down to devour more grubs, TB began to huff and blow at him from what seemed to me to be a precarious perch. He had moved so far out on a pine branch that he was directly overhead the large bear who blatantly ignored TB’s outraged protests!
In a few minutes TB decided to break off a few nearby branches, and to my amazement he then began to hurl them one by one down on his nemesis! TB’s aim was terrible and again and again he missed his quarry if that was his intent. Meanwhile the complacent big bear kept combing the ground nonchalantly as if the sticks that were raining down around him were invisible.
And then something amazing happened. TB broke off a huge branch and after he secured it in his teeth he dropped it directly down hitting big bear squarely on the head! Ouch, I was sure I heard the thud. At that point the 300 lb adult bear leapt up and disappeared into the forest in a flash! The whole scene was hilarious. I laughed so hard that tears ran down my face.
TB took this turn of affairs into his stride and immediately began to descend from his tree. When he reached the ground he sniffed the place where the adult bear had raked the ground, and after finding nothing of interest TB casually meandered off into the woods.
This behavior, aside from being amusing, suggests that Black bears may use tools; during my research I observed other bears, using for example, a pail to stand on to reach a hummingbird feeder. Black bears may be one of the most intelligent animals of all. Their brain in relationship to body size is the largest of all mammals.
Unfortunately intelligence needs to be coupled with experience, a quality that TB doesn’t yet possess. Even if he did, this knowledge is hardly a guarantee that any Black bear will be safe from human predation because this is the time of year a bear is most vulnerable. All bears need to ingest up to 20,000 calories a day to survive hibernation. Hunters bait bears with unhealthy foods drawing the hungry animals in to be shot.
Sadly, TB and his little sister have been absent for two days and I fear that they may have been shot. Every year it seems to get harder for me to accept that hunting season means that so many young bears will be killed before they have had a chance to live out their natural lives.
To comfort myself I remember that Lynn is also experiencing the same fear of loss that I am, and knowing this helps me to feel that I am not so alone.
The bears thank Lynn for his tireless advocacy and I do too. Someday perhaps the tide will turn for these animals, but until then when it comes to hunting season all we can do is to hope that many bears will be spared.