Among The Bears

Benjamin Kilham

and Ed Gray

Among the Bears.

“But a New Hampshire fall is nothing if not changeable, and within a week a moderating front brought the cubs out of their snug den to sleep up in the high perch of the cage even in the downpour that came with it.  Upon my arrival in the midst of the cold, dreary rain, they simply shook themselves dry, jumped down, and came over to eat.

LB (short for Little Boy) had recently begun to greet his food with a new vocalization, a droning 'num-num-num-num.'  I first heard this sound from adult bears that were being fed when I had driven over to Clark's Trading Post, a longtime tourist attraction in Lincoln, New Hampshire, to ask Maureen Clark what accommodations she made for winter bear dens, but had never heard it from my cubs until now.  I wasn't sure what it meant, but suspected something like 'This is my food, and I will defend it.'  The cubs weighed close to eighty pounds now, and their ferocious daily food fights  had become a thing of the past.  As awful as they sounded, the cubs' fights now appeared to have been nothing more than a social lesson for their future.  Here was a system to be admired: As long as the cubs were unable to do each other serious harm, the fights continued; but when they had their adult canines and could do serious damage to each other, this new warning utterance appeared and the fights stopped.  Permanently.  Humanity, with all its wisdom, hasn't figured out anything nearly as clever as this.”

The passage above comes from a book titled Among the Bears: Raising Orphan Cubs in the Wild.  It was written by Benjamin Kilham, a woodsman and naturalist who has discovered and field-tested a new and exciting wildlife biology.  In the spring of 1993, Kilham, who lives in the woodlands of New Hampshire, began raising a pair of orphaned wild black bear cubs.  It was an experience that changed his life.

While spending thousands of hours with the cubs, Kilham discovered previously unknown facets about bear behavior that have radically revised our understanding of animal behavior in general.  Now widely recognized for his contributions to wildlife science, the author reveals that black bears are altruistic and cooperate with unrelated, even unknown, individuals, while our closer relatives, the supposedly more highly evolved chimpanzees, cooperate only within troops of recognizable members.

Kilham offers fascinating insights into the emotional life of bears.  His work also illustrates how black bears' powerful intelligence has enabled them to survive bounties and overhunting to become North America's dominant omnivore, familiar to every reader.  Among the Bears explores the breaking down of mutual suspicion and the building up of trust between the species, with its hopeful implications for the shared future of humans and animals in the wild.  Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright © 2004, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.