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In response to some feedback regarding a recent Answer in Depth article, Tom Hennigan takes the occasion to clarify some points.
Some comments have been received with regard to my recent AiG web article, Stewarding American Black Bears with Trust giving me an opportunity to clarify some things.
It seems that the trust exhibited by the bear toward the researcher was thought to be equated with the bear “liking” the researcher or that the researcher viewed the relationship as a friendship with the bear. Nothing could be further from the truth. These researchers do not view or treat these bears as “friends.” It is well known by those who understand bear behavior (which is mostly predictable) that the bear has no love for the humans who are studying them. Trust is not to be confused with a fantasized anthropomorphic friendship. I use the word trust because a wild American black bear is normally a nervous and secretive animal when in the presence of humans. The bears I referenced are bears that know the researchers and have been habituated in the sense that they know that nothing bad or good happens when the researcher is present. These bears may allow the biologist to check their pulse or the bear may lie down within inches for a nap and will show no signs of stress or concern. I can think of no better word to describe this situation other than trust.
Peaceful relationships between men and animals will be restored when Jesus returns (Isaiah 11:6), and until that time we are truly in a fallen world with carnivory and violence as part of the animal kingdom as well as with humankind. But, one of the reasons I wrote the article was to help dispel common myths and share a time-tested model for studying and stewarding American black bears. As a wildlife ecologist I have spent a great deal of time in both brown and black bear habitat and observing them in the wild. Unless they are food conditioned, the American black bear is a shy and nervous animal. Statistics do not support the contention that we need to be fearful for the researchers or that there is regularly any danger. Since 1900, 61 people have been killed by North American Black bears. No relationship with another living creature is without some risk. One has a much higher chance of being killed by bees, domestic dogs, lightning, or people than being killed by a black bear. See How Dangerous are Black Bears? and Myth: When bears lose their fear of people, they become more likely to attack.
I'm sure that some can’t help but think of Timothy Treadwell who, along with his girl friend, were killed by at least one Alaskan brown bear. I urge those with concerns to read the following link, which I referenced in the last article, as it addresses both the Treadwell situation and outlines other researchers who have safely studied bears using the model I described: www.bearstudy.org/website/research/daily-updates/1089-unique-and-specialized-.html. The bottom line in Treadwell’s situation was that they challenged a bear over a food cache, which was a tragic and serious mistake. It can also be argued that his worldview regarding his place in the bear community was not grounded in the reality of this fallen world. This is another reason why proper understanding of bear behavior is important; it can help reduce the chance of being harmed in human-bear encounters, which sometimes happen whether we want them to or not.
I hope this brief response has helped dispel some persistent myths about black bears. The next time you are out in bear country and have the privilege of observing these amazing creatures of God, fear not and enjoy the view.
[Note: Please understand that this article is speaking of a method that researchers use. Anyone else—especially those unfamiliar with bear behavior—should always regard these beautiful beasts with proper respect for their strength in light of a fallen world, where large animals can harm people. Proper safety should always be exercised around any wild animals. Know the types of bears and risks in an area you plan to visit and be aware of relevant safety protocols. The U.S. National Park Service has several tip sheets. Yellowstone Park, for instance, has both grizzly and black bears and offers safety tips and information for both types on their website (www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/bearenc.htm) and in their brochures.]