A rare wildlife sighting can be an incredible experience. An elk crashing through the brush, a mountain lion’s tail moving through distant prairie grass or a bear turning over rocks in search of food in a high mountain meadow — living in a rural area means Taos County residents have stories like these going back generations, passed down from one to the next as experiences to be treasured.
But if we’re seeing these animals in our towns, in our yards, then, more than likely, we did something to attract them there, and that can have serious consequences for these animals.
For wild animals, risk of injury or death tends to increase proportionally with their proximity to humans. Arroyo Seco saw this in October 2021, when a black bear that found its way into the crook of a roadside tree in the village drew a crowd of onlookers, before someone illegally killed the bear by shooting it full of arrows.
But if you were to ask wildlife experts like Kathleen Ramsey, founder of Cottonwood Rehab, whom Geoffrey Plant interviewed for his front page story this week, any human interaction with a black bear can alter the bear’s behavior in harmful ways.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish estimates there to be 6,000 black bears living in New Mexico. And while that number is far from the most in the lower states (California, for example, has somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000), there are enough living here that encounters with New Mexicans are far from unheard of.
Disappointing as it might be to those who wrongly mistake real-life bears for giant Winnie the Poohs dying to be snuggled, gawked at or have selfies taken with — bears are dangerous, especially when tending to their cubs. There were three recorded bear attacks in New Mexico in 2018, one in 2019 and one in 2020, when the bear in question was killed after attacking a woman in Pajarito Ski Resort near Los Alamos. Recognizing these animals can be dangerous, however, is a different statement than promoting the idea they should be attacked or killed if encountered. If that happens, the National Park Service recommends standing your ground and slowly waving your arms.
In general, though, bears aren’t interested in humans — unless there’s food around.
Leaving out trash and recycling cans that can easily be tipped over or opened; using bird feeders in an area when bears are nearby; letting fruit fall from trees uncollected; or leaving pet or human food out in the open are some of the most common reasons people or their pets come into contact with bears when they shouldn’t.
According to experts like Ramsey, even the smallest human-to-bear interactions, however indirect, can fundamentally alter a bear’s instincts. The Wolf Education & Research Center wrote about this issue in a March 2022 article: “Bears have long-term memory when it comes to food sources. If they can successfully get a meal from your yard, they’ll come back, even years later. This becomes a dangerous situation because as they get used to finding their meals in human trash cans, their usual instinct to avoid humans goes away …”
Last month’s case of Dawn the black bear, found in a town dumpster in Red River, is a clear example of this problem, which can be avoided if people and municipalities near bear populations take some basic precautions to ensure these animals, and all wildlife, are left undisturbed so they can co-exist with us in peace.
What an ironic statement by The Taos News: "if people and municipalities near bear populations take some basic precautions to ensure these animals, and all wildlife, are left undisturbed so they can co-exist with us in peace".
First of all, the bear cub found was suffering from malnutrition... caused by the man made forest fire that killed its mother bear, or separated them during the flight of the killer flames.
Second, the cub who probably had not yet been taught to forge food for itself was near death in the dumpster. Probably a last resort for food and survival for the cub.
Yes I agree wildlife should be "left undisturbed so they can co-exist with us in peace".
Quit destroying their habitat by using fire. By doing so, "human habitat" was also destroyed not counting the horrific loss of human life and wildlife unable to escape the largest man made forest fire leaving death and destruction in its path.
Also so odd, a picture of a cub from MONTANA forest had to be used highlighting the point, if you don't shoot them full of arrows for simply looking for food, we will probably never have an opportunity to take a picture in the NEW MEXICO forest of a cub.
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