October 22, 2009—In the wilds of northern Minnesota, bear expert Lynn Rogers teaches participants at a "wild encounters" education camp about bear language, manners, and lifestyle—all while getting up close and personal with wild black bears.
© 2009 National Geographic; producer/videographer: Lia Kvatum
Lynn Rogers, The Bear Man, leads six city slickers on a hunt through Minnesota's wild north woods, Well, let's see if we can find this bear
If all goes well, they'll be face to face with wild black bears within the hour.
A close encounter with wild bears may seem downright dangerous to some. But Rogers, the founder and executive director of the North American Bear Center believes it's not only safe, but the best way to learn about bears and their habits.
SOT: What were finding is that bears are not the ferocious animals we once thought
For the last four decades, Rogers has been walking with wild black bears learning firsthand what they eat, how they communicate, and how they interact with people.
At around 900,000 the black bear population is at its highest point in a century.
And bear/human interactions are on the rise.
Rogers wants the public to learn that bears are not to be feared, despite their aggressive reputation.
For the last five years, Rogers has been hosting intensive bear education camps. Over four days, participants learn everything from bear biology to bear habits and even bear language.
Look at those feet, you guys
Rogers tracks the wild bears by catching signals from collars that the bears wear.
SOT: Yup, it's close
Rogers calls this bear June. Rogers has followed her since she was a yearling. She trusts Rogers enough to allow him and the group to approach. Her own cubs wait in a nearby tree.
Rogers uses no tranquilizers because of the potential harm to both the bears and his data. Instead, he relies on his experience, a handful of nuts or other treats, and good bear manners.
SOT: Take those in exchange for those, let me take your heart rate.
The group watches as Rogers takes June's pulse and fits her for a new collar.
Later, when Rogers is finished, June softly calls to her cubs they climb out of the tree, following her to nurse.
Rogers' research shows that bears react to humans mostly out of fear not aggression, and believes humans fear of bear attack is greatly overblown.
SOT: About one in one million black bears kills somebody, uh, for people it's one out of 18,000 kills somebody in North America.
It doesn't seem like it, but Rogers says this bear is actually afraid. It doesn't attack. Instead it makes a blustery, bluff charge and swipes at the camera.
The reason for this behavior lies in the black bears genes. For thousands of years they were hunted by large, ferocious predators. These megapredators are now extinct but genetically, black bears are still prey items and act like it.
Rogers advises that people avoid direct contact with wild bears, but if interactions occur, the old adage is probably true: They're more scared of you than you are of them.