"With growing black bear populations and an ever-increasing sprawl of human development, conflicts are inevitable and increasing. The question is: will we learn to live with this magnificent animal?" (p. 226)So one day last summer I'm riding my bike up in the Siskiyou Mountains and as I come around a corner there is a black bear in the middle of the road. I don't know who was more surprised, but I do know who was more scared since s/he left the road immediately. My wife has warned me on excursions since then to beware of the bears, but since that event, half the reason I now continue to go up there is in hopes of seeing another one. Well, this book did nothing to discourage me from such encounters, and I'm hoping my wife reads it too. She will certainly enjoy reading it, and Among the Bears will teach her more than a thing or two about these creatures.
Among the Bears is quite similar to Next of Kin in many ways. It is well written, entertaining, informative, exciting, sad, and most of all: it provides an entirely new and "insider's" perspective to a species that you may think you know something about, but really don't, before undertaking its contents. Benjamin Kilham is the Jane Goodall of the bear kingdom.
On the scientific front, Kilham presents his evidence/anecdotes for numerous items previously undiscovered or unknown about bears. He believes bears are capable of teaching by demonstration, self awareness, vocal (and non-verbal) communication, deception, altruism, and that they have a conscience (among other things). He is not dogmatic in his findings, however, which is refreshing.
It really did seem to me that LB had a conscience, that he was sorry and sought reassurance after our altercation the previous day. Was it possible that an animal could have these kinds of feelings? I've always had a pretty quick red flag for anthropomorphic conjecture, but then again not many people have ever had as full a relationship with an animal as I was now developing with LB and LG. Did that make me simply more susceptible to unwarranted anthropomorphism, or did it make it possible for me to begin to see something that might actually be there?Chapter 25 is a must read for anyone living (or camping) near bears. The whole book is really a must read for people in bear territory, but Chapter 25 is where he summarizes how people should live so that bears can peacefully coexist. The book is a pleasure to read from start to finish. My only complaint is that Kilham feels that the study of bears has been neglected relative to primates. Because of this view, he undeservedly knocks great apes when he gets the chance. Edit out those few jabs, toss in a few hours of Kilham's home video, and you'd have the perfect package. This is a really fascinating adventure that you won't hear anywhere else because Kilham is the only mama bear out there that speaks English. Among the Bears is a certain eye opener for all readers.
Logic and optimism both told me that someday the ratio of questions to answers would shift in favor of the latter, but that day was nowhere near any horizon I could see... (p. 53)
from the publisher:
A first-person account of wild bear behavior that is both a thrilling animal story and a groundbreaking work of science.In the spring of 1993, Ben Kilham, a naturalist who lives in the woodlands of New Hampshire, began raising a pair of orphaned wild black bears. The experience changed his life.
While spending thousands of hours with the cubs, Kilham discovered unknown facets of bear behavior that have radically revised our understanding of animal behavior. Now widely recognized for his contributions to wildlife science, Kilham reveals that bears are altruistic and cooperate with unrelated, even unknown individuals, while our closer relatives, the supposedly more highly evolved chimps, cooperate only within troops of recognizable members.
Kilham, who turned a disability, dyslexia, to his advantage as a naturalist, offers fascinating insights into the emotional life of bears. His work -- which has been featured in several National Geographic television specials -- also illustrates the powerful black bear intelligence that has survived bounties and overhunting to make them North America's dominant omnivore, familiar to every reader. Beyond the natural history, he introduces individual bears who become enthralling and memorable characters.
As in the bestselling books by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Among the Bears explores the breaking down of mutual suspicion and building up of trust between species, with its hopeful implications for the shared future of humans and animals in the wild.
From Among the Bears:
Because we had two females this time we needed names to distinguish them. We named one Curls for the curly hair on her forehead; the other, who was smaller, became Squirty. The boy we left at that -- The Boy. Almost immediately they began to show not only their physically distinguishing marks, but their personalities as well. Within a month, while the cubs were still upstairs, The Boy began escaping from the pen and letting loose with a series of distress calls as soon as he found himself separated from his sisters, who would then try to join him. Already he was showing himself to be the explorer of the group.
One of the immediate differences I could see between raising these new cubs and the first two was that I could now recognize their behaviors as they developed. Whenever they were scared, either by a sound or a smell, they would "tree" to the highest pillow on the bed or on me if I were with them, all the way up to my head and shoulders. They suckled my ears and fingers and wrestled to bond with each other and with me. In my case they wrestled with my hand, but I knew what it meant. Even today -- in her sixth year and at times well over two hundred pounds -- when I meet her in the woods every spring, Squirty and I wrestle to get reacquainted.
Benjamin Kilham is a woodsman and naturalist who over the past twenty-five years has discovered and then field-tested a new, exciting wildlife biology. Ed Gray is a naturalist writer and founder of Gray's Sporting Journal. They both live in Lyme, New Hampshire.