Remember the classic TV show Wild Kingdom, where Marlin Perkins would talk about the wildebeast, then send Jim off to do the tough work? Animal Planet’s new version is the opposite. They found the expert biologists working to save or deeply understand a species and let them animals and let them host. Their recent episode with bear biologist Lynn Rogers is the perfect reason why.
Instead of talking about a herd of animals he parachuted in on, Rogers tells the life stories of a pair of sister black bears and their families of cubs. Then he shows how harmless they are compared to what people think of them by climbing up to a den with a mother and cubs.
Rogers says his secret is trust and treats. He got over scientist’s need for false objectivity and got to know the bears as individuals. And once they got to trust him, they let him watch their lives upclose.
The only dangerous part of the year is hunting season. Rogers helped revise the hunt 30 years ago, cutting the season from all year to 6 weeks. But Minnesota hunters are still allowed to use bait–something many hunters look down on as not fair chase and many states outlaw. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lets hunters kill research bears, but it does point out on its bear hunting home page how to identify easy and unsportsmanlike targets. (They have collars. And often enormous bright, pink ribbons that Rogers ties on them. Not that hard.)
Rogers is more tolerant than I would be of the hunters. He posts friendly signs begging them not to shoot collared bears because of their value to research.
He and his staff wear blaze orange vests and crawl around with some of them from before dawn till after dark to protect them. Still, two of his bears were shot.
“There’s no way the person could miss that this was a radio collared bear,” Rogers says, pointing to a bait pile just below the tree that had the deer stand. “This bear could have given us so much. He was an unusually good bear for research. Now he’s just going to be maybe a little meat in somebody’s freezer, maybe a skin, maybe a head on a wall. And he could have given so much to science.”
Rogers patiently explains that he helped re-rewrite the state’s bear hunting regulations 30 years ago, which cut the season from all year to just 6 weeks.
His research has helped show that black bears aren’t nearly as dangerous as people thought. “Each year more and more hunters cooperate with us and avoid our study bears,” Rogers says. The research bears are four times more likely to survive hunting season than generic bears, he says.
Where to Go See Bear
Contribute to Lynn Rogers’ bear research (or check out his fantastic bear classes)
Where to See Wildlife in the Midwest