Last month Jasper and I took an extra day off of work to take a short trip to Upper Michigan with the sole intention to visit Oswald's Bear Ranch, a bear rescue in Newberry. I was excited to snap some photos, and I'm happy to finally be sharing my favorites with you. Last year when we visited the UP on our road trip around Lake Michigan I fell head over heels in love with these beautiful animals. Over the winter, much of my time was spent at the library, scouring for as many books about bears as could be found. Now, as a more knowledgeable individual, in addition to the photos, I'd also like to share a little bit more about bears and Oswald's Bear Ranch. (See my Bear Ranch post from last year here!)
I don't believe in zoos, and I choose not to support them by buying tickets because I don't think animals should be kept in captivity and exploited. Oswald's Bear Ranch is not a zoo, however, it is a bear rescue. All of the bears living on the ranch (29 all together) have been rescued as lost or abandoned cubs, or as neglected "pets." It is against the law in Michigan to breed bears, so once they reach sexual maturity the males and the females are kept in separate "habitats." These habitats are a third to a half mile in perimeter, each, and there are two other enclosures of a quarter mile perimeter for the yearlings and adolescent bears. All of the bear cubs are raised by humans and grow quite familiar with human interaction, and for this reason, they can never be released back into the wild. They live out the rest of their lives in the beautiful woods surrounded by two layers of tall chain link fence where tourists can come, and, for twenty dollars a carload, see them.
American Black bears (Ursus americanus) are the most common bears in the world. They are omnivores with a diet that fluctuates dramatically based on what is available to them at any given time, mostly based on season and location. Black bears vary in color, as is evident in these photos. Their coats are known to be brown, blond, cinnamon, and even white. These bears mostly occupy heavily forested areas, though do leave the woods occasionally in search of food. Black bears (including those at Oswald's Bear Ranch) hibernate during the winter months.
The black bear population is likely more than double that of all other bear species combined. Along with brown bears, these bears are the only ones considered not threatened with extinction. While this seems like good news for the black bears, this is a terrible statistic for bears globally. Especially in Asia and South America, bear species are severely threatened (only about 1.600 Panda Bears exist today).
At the bear ranch humans are separated from the bears by a very tall double layer of fence. Some of the bears hang out next to the fences and raised viewing areas because they have been conditioned to understand they might get treats (apples) from the onlookers. There were times when I was only three feet away from these animals. It surprised (and delighted) me to observe all the different personalities between the bears, along with all of their distinct and unique appearances. We'd regard each other from our opposite sides of the fence until one or the other decided it was time to move on. As our eyes would meet, I didn't find myself staring into blank and empty voids. The beautiful brown eyes gazing back at me were surprising soulful. There was an intelligent and thoughtful air between us.
I was sad to observe a few of the bears suffering from mild zoochosis (a psychological condition that can affect captive animals). I observed some pacing and neck twisting in the adult bears, while the cubs in the smallest enclosure with no grass or green, were quite quickly and compulsively pacing until someone would come along with the staff to have their photo taken with them. It brought me to tears to observe these behaviors, but my sadness was slightly mollified to know that these bears are living a better life than they would have in the wild where most of them, as cubs, would have died from starvation. Nuisance bears would have probably been euthanized. Being reminded first hand about the sadness of captive animals just drove home for me my belief that, whenever possible, wild animals should stay wild. I support rescue, rehab, and release programs, and I do understand that in some circumstances, such as with these rescued bears, animals can't be released into the wild. I am thankful for the kind people who care for them and use their time with them to better society's understanding and appreciation of their species.
Want to learn more about what is affecting and threatening bears worldwide? Here is a helpful article.
Check out this short documentary about zoochosis, I can't recommend it enough.
To become involved and advocate for the protection of these wonderful animals, take a look at these sites: