Guest post by Blaine Anthony – host of “The Bear Whisperer,” “North American Safari” and the new show, “The Hitmen.”
“Thumper, you’re on backup.”
These were the words of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Bear Biology Team leader, Randy Cross. Thumper, also known as Matt O’Neal, stood guard at the back of the biologist triangle wielding a “trusty” old duct-taped tranquilizer dart gun. He was at half aim as his team leader slowly crept towards the basketball sized opening in the snow mound. Randy was depending on Thumper in the quite possible event of the bears running.
The third leg of the triangle was occupied by Kid. Her job was to cover the low-lying back entrance to the den. The ever present revolver Kid carries was barely noticeable under the forest green wool warden’s jacket. But, this wasn’t the type of revolver that brings you comfort when entering a bear den; it was a revolver containing darts to tranquilize a bear about ten minutes after firing. Not exactly a life saver. Outside of the office and woods, most people refer to Kid as Lisa Bates. Kid’s petite stature and signature blue “bonnet,” used to keep den dirt out of her lengthy blonde hair, resembled that of a young school girl. However, this tiny package of a woman spends 90 plus days per year with only her boots emerged from holes in the snow taking on 200 pound black bear mothers armed only with a syringe.
When the State of Maine contacted me about accompanying the bear biology team into den territory to locate a sow with cubs, of course I was ecstatic. I mean, how many people have ever been into a bear den and held a real wild bear cub? This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I knew that. What I didn’t know was how high the intensity level would be once we finally made it to the den site. This team of biologists worked like a well oiled machine and never showed a hint of fear. But, make no mistake they are working in every sense of the word, completely focused. They know that every time they enter a bear den, they are putting their safety in each other’s hands.
I never felt like my safety was in danger at any point. However, as Randy approached the very aware sow with his dart, I could feel the tension throbbing all around me. I have never had a more exhilarating moment in the woods than I did that day I first observed a family of bears in their natural habitat at point blank range. The connection that I felt with the bears that day was unexplainable. To be able to hold a four week old cub in my arms was remarkable. I look forward to heading out with Randy and his team, once again, in the next couple weeks. The best part is being able to share this experience with my audience, most of whom will never have the same opportunity. I am truly blessed to call what I do everyday work.