By Ruby Bonham
Seeing the notices of our semi-resident black bear in the park has brought back a lot of memories. Thus these recollections.
My ex was with a friend when he bought two baby black bears. He said he would get them bottled and weaned and then my ex would take one of them when they were six months old. It was said that they were the off spring of a movie star bear. At six months Yogi weighed about 15 to 20 pounds, was litter trained and lived in the house. His boys took him to school for Show and Tell. He rode in the pickup and went along to check cattle. He played with the calves while hay was being strung out for the cattle. He was the star of parades, store openings and various functions.
I first met Yogi in 1994. I had married and moved to Nebraska where I had a husband, two step sons and one black bear. Yogi Ben was ten years old when I became part of his life. Some thought I married because of the bear ( not sure they were totally wrong). When I met him he had an outdoor enclosure and weighed about 650 pounds. Part of his enclosure was made of the old town jail and had an attached double den. He used the north side in winter and the south in summer. In the fall he would be given a large pile of hay for him to put in his den. If you put the hay in for him he would take it all out and put it back the way he wanted it. He had no need to hibernate because he had a steady source of food but would sometimes hole up for a few days during a blizzard. If I went out to the edge of the den and said “Yogi. Cookie”, he would open one eye and look out to see if it was worth the effort to come out. If it looked good he would crawl out on his elbows and get his snack, then go back in. He had a wonderful sense of humor and when he was happy he had a deep rumbling purr. When I painted the jail part of his enclosure he “helped”. He would pat my feet as I stood on a stool to paint the top bars. He had a black smear of paint across his nose. If you opened the door he would come out while we cleaned but wanted to door left open. As he got older he preferred to stay inside. He had a large tank that he would sit in when it was hot and would stretch out with his arms along the sides. He looked like all he needed was a Pepsi and a sun visor.
Over the years many groups of people came to see him, Day Cares, Schools and Scouts were frequent. I made up business cards that had his picture and a little key chain with a black onyx bear for all the kids. The best thing was parents bringing their kids and telling them how they had come to see Yogi when they were kids. Sometimes when he ate he would lay down with his food between his paws and baby chicks, ducks and kittens would sit on his arm and eat with him. He loved them.. One day he moved his arm and accidentally killed a baby chick. He would touch it and cry and would not let us take it out for several hours.
I knew Yogi for 16 years and it was a great experience. He could not have survived in the wild. Most black bears are shot by hunters at 2 to 4 years old. If lucky they may live 15 to 20 years. Yogi was 26. He had a grey muzzle and stray grey hair on his head and back. He loved to be scratched when he was shedding in the spring. I personally would never have purchased a bear cub but since he was already there, I welcomed the experience. Black bears are very smart and usually try to avoid humans. When raised in captivity they can be very gentle hence “Gentle Ben”. Yogi would have had a very hard time finding his favorite treat of Twinkies. Also he would start to drool when he saw you coming with watermelon. He liked most fruit except citrus and liked lettuce and some veggies. One day I got a whole flat of strawberries from the neighboring town and was so excited to give them to him. No way! He wanted nothing to do with them but my rabbits thought they were quite tasty.
I was fortunate to have had such an experience with a not so wild bear but do not think you can befriend any wild bear especially one with a cub. They have no way of knowing if you are friend or foe so please do not scare them or yourself. Movie star bears are declawed and de-fanged for safety. Wild bears are fully capable of doing great harm if scared or threatened. Be safe and watch a movie instead.