Koshari the black bear is lounging in a semi winter’s hibernation when I visit him. Sitting on his rump with furry back legs stretched out, he is in that pleasant place between sleep and dreams. His head is held heavy, dozing and snacking away a chilly morning. Looking at him makes me want to curl up for a long winter’s nap too.
Koshari makes his permanent home at Wildlife West in Edgewood, New Mexico. Wildlife West provides refuge to native wildlife of New Mexico that, for one reason or another cannot be returned to the wild.
From a distance, Koshari doesn’t look much bigger than a Newfoundland, yet he holds a mighty and majestic presence. When a mass of black brown fur greets me at the fence, I see up close, how a black bear is as captivating as the wilds he inhabits. Koshari’s head is enormous and his ears look surprisingly similar to a child’s teddy bear. His long snout faces me with the soft gaze of a bear that just woke up.
Koshari arrived at Wildlife West as a yearling bear, now he was one beautiful, big bear. As a youth in northern New Mexico foraging near Navajo Lake he learned about the groceries and goodies kept on the area’s boats. Such curious bear minds naturally see no harm in claiming an easy meal.
Before he was called Koshari (which means “Clown” in Navajo) his reputation was “nuisance bear”. Without a bear’s natural fear and avoidance of humans, Koshari was now considered a threat to campers. For some bears caught between the wild and human encroachment, this has meant a sad fate for what is one of the most spectacular large mammals of North America.
Living in northern New Mexico a bear similar to Koshari once visited my house; a gangly yearling enjoying the fruit trees in the yard. When in drought, food is more challenging to find and the young bear drifted out of the foot hills beyond the mountains.
I made the mistake of telling my British grandma about the bear in the yard. It wasn’t a mistake. I told her because she was forever fascinated with wildlife stories of bears mauling people in the forests, sharks lacerating people in the sea and hikers stumbling onto poisonous snakes.
For years after the bear sighting Grandma called and our conversation would begin: “Any bears on the patio?”
Her British voice was enthralled, delighted by the prospect, the fear, the close encounter, the possibility of a huge wooly bear hovering outside my window.
“No Grandma, no more bears on the patio”.
I am certain that if my Grandma were still alive, she would enjoy watching History Channel’s ‘Alone’. When the night cam reflects the glowing eyes in the trees, I imagine she would shriek in fascinated horror. “Hey, Bear!” the survivalists yell. In the beginning the survivalists speak of their own strength and how “Any bear is gonna have to fight me off”. Then sequestered in their tent, the sound of tree branches cracking in the darkness, all that bravado evaporates.
Venturing into the backcountry the majority of wilderness seekers respect that they are entering the bear’s wilderness. Then again humans can make questionable choices. Consider Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man” as an example.
As a little kid who earned my hiking legs in Yellowstone National Park, I was privy to watch other visitor’s behavior. There were the occasional tourists who would get out of their car or step off the trail and approach a bear, an elk or a wild bison. Somewhere I have a vintage snapshot photo juxtaposing the Yellowstone roadside and a shaggy bear in the same frame. There are the more dramatic vintage photos of bears in Yellowstone climbing onto tourist’s cars looking to be fed. This is really no different than the obese (and probably diabetic) marmots that live off the boardwalks of Yellowstone. The only difference is that a marmot isn’t going to come find you in your tent later that night.
If you are exploring Yellowstone (or another National Park) please do not attempt to pet the wildlife or get closer and definitely do not feed the wildlife. You’re putting not only your life at risk, but the animal’s life as well.
Also when visiting Yellowstone, do not step off the boardwalk and put your hand in one of the geysers to see “if the water really is hot”. I must have been seven years old, but I still remember the tourists who did this.
In short, these are examples of how a nuisance bear is formed in relationship to our behaviors in the wilderness. There is always the possibility of a bear encounter, this is the beauty of the wild. It is our duty to keep bears and other wildlife in the wilderness. When that doesn’t happen, we need to be aware of the animals that end up in a captive environment or worse. Oddly, money plays a part in the survival of a large wild mammal because the question becomes, if this animal is a nuisance bear, where does he go now? Who pays for that?
While Koshari the black bear doesn’t get to live out his days in the wild due to his comfort level around people, he does live in a place that offers him the chance to live as closely to his natural wild home as possible at Wildlife West.
Educate yourselves about the magnificent world of bears. Be prepared. When visiting bear country do everything you can to allow a bear the opportunity to go deeper into the wild undisturbed.
The opportunity to learn about Koshari opens my heart and represents the stories of what I want Species Spectrum to express. This is the story of one bear’s life experience.
I appreciate the wonderful volunteer who took me around one cold morning taking care of all the animals. She was enthusiastic, passionate and ready to get her hands dirty.
I am grateful for having met Roger Alink, founder of Wildlife West, he is truly dedicated to the well being of all wildlife. Please make a visit sometime or send a donation.