Black bears will eat a wide variety of foods. Kilham has documented over 125 different plant and animal species that bears will eat. During the spring, bears seek sedges, buds and other early plants.
It’s more than play time. These cubs are practicing what Kilham calls “ritualistic wrestling,” in which two bears that encounter each other wrestle a little bit, on two feet, to determine whether they can trust the other.
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personal how a bear sees with its nose,” Orff recalled. “I learned more in those four or five hours than I had learned in my many years of working with bears.”
“Mother Bear Man
Since then, Kilham has raised and released 24 cubs or yearlings, most of which came from New Hampshire.
Kilham starts raising the cubs in his house, feeding them various forms of synthetic milk through a bottle four times a day. When the weather warms up, and by the time the cubs are about four months old, Kilham takes the bears to a nearby fenced-in area in the woods. He has rigged a door so that the bears can come and go from the fenced area as they choose.
Kilham visits the bears here every day, sometimes spending many hours with them. He walks them daily, taking them to all sorts of places within walking distance – sometimes just for the exercise and sometimes for research. For instance, Kilham may take a bear to trees marked by other bears to see how it’ll react; or he’ll take a bear to a feeding area rich with acorns.
“These are not cage-raised bears,” Kilham said. “They’re not dependent. And in this way they become very well educated about how to get along. So, by the time they’re 18-months- old, there’s nothing they want better than another bear as a mate.”
When they’re that age, the bears are usually ready to start fattening up for the winter and disperse on their own. Kilham tries to release them where they’re ranges won’t overlap, though some overlap is unavoidable.
“Dispersal is a tough struggle for bears, especially for young males, because they have such a huge range,” Kilham said. “They’ll travel 5 to 200 miles away. Females are more likely to stay put in a much smaller home range.”
Kilham releases some of the bears with radio collars so he can find them and follow their progress. Others have ear tags, and some (such as yearlings recovering from starvation) go with nothing – “bear” naked, if you will.
Kilham can visit the collared bears anytime he wants. There’s one five- year-old female, for instance, that he visits often for research. As Kilham approaches the bear, he’ll make a few
vocalizations so she recognizes him. Then they’ll exchange greetings and Kilham will see what she’s doing.
This privilege has allowed Kilham to observe many little-known aspects of black bear behavior. He’s been able to watch bears during all times of the year as they play, forage, prepare for denning and communicate with other bears in various ways.
By wrapping a cloth measuring tape around a bear’s waist, Kilham has followed a bear’s weight gain in the summer and fall, then while she’s in the den during winter, and again when she emerges from the den in the spring.
“What’s remarkable is the weight gain in the fall, about 100 pounds a month,” he said. “That mast crop is so important because it has to help the bears get through the winter, spring and until the next mast crop comes in.”
Using his gunsmithing tools and skills, Kilham has gotten good at rigging up remote cameras. The cameras catch which bears are in the
area and what they’re doing, such as foraging, marking trees and even napping.
Kilham has strapped his remote camera to a tree where bears were frequently feeding nearby. He aimed the camera at another tree that had