Independent researcher Kilham (Among the Bears: Raising Orphaned Cubs in the Wild, 2002) shares what he has learned over the decades about black bears and their society.
The author is a state-sponsored researcher whose work with the black bear population in northern New Hampshire is safe, methodical and sanctioned. Since he does not currently hold a doctorate—he’s now working on that—much of his fieldwork has been discounted by the scientific community. On the other hand, his outsider status has allowed him to go his own way and trust in his natural skills rather than bemoan his shortcomings revolving around his dyslexia. Despite his condition, he is blessed with the ability to recognize patterns and see systems where they are not self-evident. The tone of his presentation allays criticism or hostility with its frankness and generosity, as he plunges into what he has observed: how bears use scent and body language, how they compete and cooperate, how they enforce house rules and exhibit a social code of justice and punishment, and how they communicate. “They use ear, eye, eyebrow, and facial expressions,” writes the author. “They also use a wide array of emotional vocalizations, which they emit at different levels of intensity, such as when they are reacting to danger.” Though he has interacted with hundreds of black bears, one in particular—Squirty, whom he adopted as a cub and released into the wild—has allowed Kilham to experience an intimate association with him, from comfort to anger and many other emotions in between. The author presents a solid case for bears as primal actors of social exchange—cooperation, altruism, morality—and their study, a “gateway” to understanding “how surplus fitness and an increase in population density have affected human behavior.”
A powerfully original study of bears.