A Shameless Plug for Bears
As I prepare for my 2017 thru-hike, there are several fears hanging out in my mind. Strangely, bears are not really among those fears. Ticks scare me more than bears, if you can believe that. Maybe it is because I have worked with bears, or because I am an animal person, or maybe it’s because I love bears and want to see them in the wild (from a distance, not staring down a mother and three cubs). I understand the feeling is probably not mutual among my fellow hikers, however. Allow me to make a case for bears.
You can lead a bear to water…
So, imagine you have just finished a long day of work in the Texas heat. You woke up at 4:30a.m. to prepare diets for lions, tigers, cougars, and bobcats. You spent the following 8-12 hours cleaning up habitats, raking millions of leaves (because Texas doesn’t really have autumn but the leaves drop anyway), preparing more diets, and working on other necessary projects. This is the life of an animal keeper.
Your last task of the day is to check on the bears and make sure they have water for the night. So you head down to the bear habitats. Now, bears have an affinity for water. If a bear’s water trough is full, take a snapshot and mark the calendar because it never happens. You pick one of the habitats and begin to fill up the water trough.
The resident bear sees you, hears you, and smells you getting the hose out. He might be in the middle of a nap but as soon as he hears that water, he’s wide awake. He lumbers over, watches you for a few seconds, bats his paws in the hose stream, and sticks his ginormous nose right in front of the jet of water, drenching you. Then he forgets about the stream of water because he’s distracted by the crystal clear water in the trough. He dips his paw in and splashes out half of the water you just replaced (not to mention the clean water is now twelve shades of mud). He is splashing the water out faster than you can put it in. Next thing you know, it happens. There is suddenly no more room in the trough for water because the trough is full of bear. “If I fits, I sits.” (Truth be told, he doesn’t fit; he’s a 900 pound Grizzly bear.)
This is why I love bears, folks. These stories of bear antics come from a six-month period I spent taking care of bears at a sanctuary in Texas. I could not even be mad at them for making my job harder because I was too busy laughing! Bears can awe you with their majestic power–and five seconds later have you doubled over laughing at the goofball in them. They are amazing animals.
For the Love of Bears
I consider it a part of my job as an animal keeper to show people what I get to see everyday: the curious, comical, emotional side of animals. People who connect with an animal are more likely to care about that animal and its species as a whole.
So, I am here to make a plea.
Please, while you are out there thru-hiking, section-hiking, or just hiking, make the effort to be safe about bears.
Pay attention to warnings about bear activity in an area. Follow guidelines for safely storing food and “smellables”. Hang that bear bag. Pack out garbage. Leave no trace. This was their wilderness first and they help keep ecosystems healthy and balanced. We need them, and they need us to be smart about hiking and camping in the backcountry.
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