Bear Days and Keeping Busy

Wanderers, can you believe it’s already the end of July? Where did this summer go?? I’ll give you an update on what I’ve been up to and why I have neglected this page so much. Let’s rewind to May shall we?

After the semester ended, I found myself headed back towards Idaho and Yellowstone Bear World for my second summer of working with some of the coolest animals around. An open contact park with 58 black bears, 3 grizzlies, a handful of deer and elk, 3 bison, a gaggle of chickens and ducks, and 6 black bear cubs has become my home away from home. Literally. I live there. I was blessed to receive an internship with YBW last summer and gleefully accepted a paid position for this summer – get paid to play with baby bears?! I think I might be able to pencil that in.

I was actually really nervous to come back because every year is a new keeper crew with different cubs and unexpected challenges. The dynamics of the team would be completely different than the year before especially for me having moved into a house by myself instead of boarding in the intern house. How would this summer go, will we get along, will the complications of animal care be different, will Maggie remember me?! I was so stressed trying to pack that I waited until 2 days before to actually get anything together.

My first day back was like riding a bike. My muscles remembered responses to cub actions faster than my brain could process that he was misbehaving. My tour guide voice and strict patrol attitude were back in full force after being dormant for 9 months. However, I struggled with trying not to step on toes of the interns who were there a month before I arrived but still try and give advice. We butted heads, especially since we didn’t know each other. The team is much larger this year so I wrestled with the down time I found myself regularly having and attempting to not fall into the drama that typically arises when you spend 12.5 hours 6 times a week together.

Now being 2/3 of the way done with this summer, I can say that we make it work. It’s crazy, but we already had two interns finish their 3 months, another signed on for longer when hers was done, and we have four others leaving within the next two weeks. The summer is coming to a close way faster than I have planned and looking back, it feels like last week when these cubs were 20 pounds and only up to our knees.

The cubs this year are so much different, half are difficult bears for most and the learning curve with shifting personalities is a steep one. I don’t really have a connection with any of the cubs this year like I did with Maggie or even Chief last year; this could be because Maggie was my bear and there will never be another relationship like that again, or it could be due to the amount of keepers and the bears have chosen others besides me. I am not totally heartbroken over this because I can still go out and say hi to Mags every so often; watching her grow up is a reward all its own. Especially since she does look around for me when I say hi and seems very happy whenever we visit. My girl remembered my on day one of being back!

Some awesome changes from last year is that I get a little more freedom in what we do, meaning I get to do some of the more fun things like enrichment prep and dispersal, get to spend more time with the bigger bears and working in the park, as well as learning more of the ins-and-outs of the park itself. I even got to be in charge briefly which was both nerve wracking and awesome at the same time. I am making it my goal to be able to recognize each of the big bears – which is a big task with so many of them – but it helps pass the time during quiet morning and evening patrol shifts.

This summer has been a stressful one so far, but extremely rewarding. I get to focus on the animals more this year since we have extra help and really work on the husbandry aspect instead of as much customer service like last year. I love giving tours and watching people be excited about a bear catching snacks they toss down or getting to pet a bear cub on the head, but my heart is in animal care and husbandry. This company makes me happy, and those excruciating long days are a little easier when it doesn’t always feel like work.

This is the first time I’ve lived on my own too, and it takes some getting used to with the quietness and sometimes the loneliness. I’ve been given the best friends, boyfriend, and family that come to visit to help break the quiet at the end of the day. It’s somewhat hard living solo, especially with trying to figure out adventures and how they fit around cleaning a whole house and getting the basic living things down like sleeping in and meal prep. I do like having a whole refrigerator and kitchen to myself though!

The summer is far from slowing down, and I cannot believe I have a little less than a month left before heading back for my last year of college. After that, who knows! Maybe I’ll be back to spend the rest of my career hanging out with my beautiful girl. Until then, I’ll get back to keeping up with you on here!

Wander wildly, maybe even come visit if you head this direction!

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