Saturday, January 18, 2014

Looking Back - Bear Country USA

  Our second summer workamping at Bear Country USA began in April 2006. When we arrived there was still some snow in Rapid City. The peacocks were strutting — it was mating season for them. Throughout the summer the peacocks shed their long, beautiful feathers and they turned out to be quite a prize for us and for the tourists. We would drive around in our cart early, picking up any feathers we could find, then during the day we'd look for people to give them to — one for a child, whose eyes would fill with wonder; one for a handicapped person in a wheelchair who would get a big smile; one for a lonely looking tourist, joy, and the others to just anyone we thought would like one! It became a highlight of our day, passing out peacock feathers.

 We were asked to come early this spring to help with the brand new cubs in Baby Land. What a thrill that was! Baby bears have an odd behavior that was so fun to watch. They would use each other's ears as pacifiers. These 4 are lined up, each one sucking the ear of the next. Well, all except for the first one in the line. He was out of luck! They continued this till they were quite large. We saw as many as 8 or 9 lined up once! For helping out with the bottle feeding and cleaning I was given the privilege of naming one cub. I chose the cinnamon cub, third from the left, and I named her Annie!

These two, Mary and Martha, were twins. I held the cubs carefully along one arm, an arm with long sleeves on to protect from the sharp claws, while with my other hand I would hold the bottle. After feeding, I would hold the cubs over a bucket and rub their little bellies so they would defecate, like the mama bear would do with her tongue in the wild, only without the bucket, of course. Some of the cubs were big and strong enough when taken from the dens so that they didn't need to be bottle fed, but some, like these two, still needed the bottle. The others learned quickly to feed from a dish filled with special "bear" formula, and did they ever make a mess doing it. It must have made the ear pacifiers taste all that much better!

We did some volunteering at the Rapid City Rescue Mission. One of our friends there, Monty, was thrilled to be allowed to visit, with us, the closed off region of the park where the babies were kept, and he even got to name this cub "Concho".

Here is Annie again, quite a bit bigger, out in the big viewing enclosure later in the summer. Isn't she pretty? After the first season the cubs go to a section for juvenile bears, not open to the tourists, till they are big enough to be let into the drive-through portion of the park, usually by their third year.

Cubs, and big bears, too, love to climb trees. They would spend quite a lot of time there, much to the amusement of the tourists. All it took was for one to climb up and the rest would follow. We learned early that the cubs were very destructive of the trees, so the caretakers would cut trees in the forest property, stand them up in reinforced holes in the ground, and when they were stripped of branches and needles they would be removed and new trees brought in. That happened several times during the summer.

 The bears and the wolves were together in the drive-through section of the park, but they began their lives, after being removed from the dens, in Baby Land and then in the walk-through area. Here is Vanessa with a new cub. I want one! We were allowed to pet and hold these cuties before they were put out for the public to see and admire.

 Growing pups! They were all quite tame during this stage of their lives.

Here are some adult wolves out in the drive-through area, probably no longer as tame as they were. We enjoyed watching the bears and wolves together. The bears didn't have time for the wolves but the wolves were fond of teasing the bears and trying to snatch their food. There were at least 2 different kinds of wolves at Bear Country, mostly Arctics and Greys. Watch for more critters in a future post!

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