Providing a Safe and Caring Environment for Exotic Animals

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Black Bears

By Louis Dorfman, Animal Behaviorist

Perhaps no other animal native to North America raises more interst-and confusion-than bears. Especially black bears, since they are so much more widely spread and located than are the grizzly bears of the Northwest and Alaska.

Because of increasing numbers of human/bear conflicts taking place in states across the country in which bears live, the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary made the decision in 2007 to take in both black bears and grizzly bears that needed homes.

At the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, we have both black bears and grizzly bears. I work with the black bear cubs, which were rescued by us when their mother was killed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department when found in a residential area.

We received these cubs when they were about 8 months old, and they were at first very fearful of humans, having seen their mother shot and then kept in a strange and noisy place for a month.

After working with them for long periods of time, I have now begun to earn their trust and confidence. They now are beginning to look upon me as a comfortable companion that shares their dinner table and is quite helpful in opening their peanuts for them, holding their carrots while they eat them and holding their apples to make eating them much easier. They are beginning to accept and enjoy affection, rubbing and gentle stroking. They also play with my clothing in a very gentle but curious way, wanting to check each item out and see its texture and taste.

I do everything possible to be a calm influence, never reprimanding them beyond a gentle "no" when they get a bit exuberant, and lying in close proximity so that they realize I trust them. My trust in them creates trust in me on their part.

My expectation is that, as they get older and moved into their much larger 5 acre habitat, we will take walks in the woods and share a more natural life much more like what they would have the opportunity to experience in the wild.

Not being predators, I can be much more relaxed with bears than I can with the big cats. I have to keep the big cats in an emotional state, as their instinctual state is very unstable and dangerous. However, with the bears I can relax and just be sure I don't do anything that might anger them. They can be incredibly gentle and caring. When I feed them an apple, for instance, they will make several attempts at eating it before biting down making sure my fingers do not get in their mouth and injure me. When I shell peanuts for them, they patiently wait until I have the peanut out of the shell before flicking their long tongue and picking up the nut.

Here are a few interesting facts about black bears:

Smelling:

Their smelling ability is extremely good. The limits are untested, but their nasal mucosa area is about 100 times larger than in humans.

Sounds:

Usually silent. A variety of grunts in amiable situations. Loud blowing noises when frightened. Clack teeth when frightened. They use a resonant, human like "voice" to express a range of emotions from pleasure to fear.

Running Speed:

Lean bears can exceed 30mph

Greatest Misconception:

The greatest misconception about black bears is that they are likely to attack people in defense of cubs. Black bear researchers often capture screaming cubs in the presence of bluff-charging mothers with no attacks. Defense of cubs is a grizzly bear trait.

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