Presented by Gordon Buchanan
Producer Ted Oakes
I saw this series when it was first broadcast in 2011, having been filmed in 2010. Since then there have been 3 sequels and I’ve reviews all of those. I wasn’t running this Blog at the time so I’m adding this review to complete the set.
These programs aren’t pure Natural History, they don’t claim to be. What they mainly are is a way to translate these large mammals lives in to a way the viewer can empathise. Thus increasing awareness and understanding – and hopefully conservation.
There are spoilers below, the links for each episode are working at time of writing.
These are American Black Bears, a species which predominantly eats foliage, berries, nuts and other plant material, They supplement this diet with insects, including larvae. Bees and honey are favourites. In some areas they will eat fish and small animals – only if food is scarce are they likely to hunt anything large.
The bears may seem tame to the untrained eye, they aren’t, These bears are habituated to Human contact. Lynn and his team have made the bears used to Human presence so that researchers can get close without interrupting their natural behaviour.
We meet Lily and her first cub, Hope. Lily is so confident around Lynn he can change her Radio Collar without the need for tranquilsers.
Gordon uses the techniques shown to him by Lynn to announce his presence in the woods so that the bears are relaxed. It is a huge help and it seems it helps relax Gordon too.
Three year old Lily is learning how to care for Hope without any help. So allowing Gordon to watch so closely shows how well Lynn’s techniques work.
We also meet Lilly’s mother, June. She has raised 5 cubs, including Lily.
Though Black Bears are territorial if there is sufficient food they will share foraging areas. June knows Lily is her daughter but obviously doesn’t give out rearing lessons.
After Gordon has left the area Hope becomes separated from Lily in the first episode due to the young mother coming in to season and following the scent of a male. Despite not usually intervening Lynn and his team step in to reunite them.
When he returned Gordon found that Lily had again abandoned Hope, aged only 6 months. Black Bear cubs are weened after 30 weeks and usually stay with their mother until around 18 months old.
Lynn and his assistant Sue Mansfield break the usual rule of not intervening. Which causes Gordon a few concerns, he usually distances himself from the animals he films.
Another family that Gordon watches are Juliet and her three cubs. Juliet is Lily’s aunt. Two or three cubs is a typical litter, single cubs are much rarer and a litter can often be larger. One theory regarding Lily abandoning Hope is that Hope wasn’t taking enough milk, so Lily’s body decided she needed to mate again.
So Hope missed out on several months of her mother teaching her what to eat. Surprisingly there is evidence that she might have been eating dead crayfish or perhaps even catching them.
So Hope has proven that even quite young cubs can survive alone. This did cause some controversy as if she had been left alone the first time Lily abandoned her she probably wouldn’t have survived.
Males are studied at Feeding Tables because due to their physiology their neck is bigger than their head so the radio collars will not stay on. This is common in all the bear species.
Gordon’s family visited him during his Summer filming and this showed that Hope would not go near Humans she was not habituated to. Gordon also saw how Hope was nesting in the trees rather than sleeping on the ground as she would with her mother.
In Autumn Gordon was surprised to find Lily and Hope reunited. Hope was looking well but she was smaller than an average cub of her age. Surviving hibernation was now a concern.
Part of the third episode looks at hunting and Gordon meet a hunter and his family. For these people hunting isn’t just for trophies, though they have lots of those, it is just their way of life and most, if not all, of their meat intake is from hunting.
One of the study bears was killed during filming. Lynn had been keeping an eye on Juliet and her cubs. Gordon had for some of the time been with Lily and Hope. The dead bear was Sarah, a young female who had been seen in Lily’s territory.
Below this picture of Lily are some updates since this program aired.
News following airing
Hope was sadly killed by a Hunter on 16 September 2011, a year after filming had ended, when she was only about twenty months old. Hope was not only famous through this TV series but her birth was recorded and shown on the internet.
June was shot and killed on 27th September 2013.
In both cases the Radio Collars were handed in.
Hunting is legal in the area where the bears are studied and though hunters are asked not to shoot bears with Radio Collars it isn’t illegal to do so. The Hunting season is from September 1st through to the middle of October.
Whether these deaths are in part due to these two bears being habituated to Humans or not can’t be certain. 3000 bears are killed on average in this region per year. Few collared bears are actually shot so either the habituation has no affect or Hunters may usually follow the request not to shoot collared bears.
In 2013 Lynn and his team went through a period where it seemed their permission to research the Black Bears of Minnesota might not be renewed. Thankfully despite there being a period where there was no permit the research has been allowed to continue.
In closing – the video of Hope’s birth.