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Among the Bears: Raising Orphaned Cubs in the Wild

Among the Bears: Raising Orphaned Cubs in the Wild

by Benjamin Kilham, Ed Gray

A first-person account of wild bear behavior that is both a thrilling animal story and a groundbreaking work of science.

In the spring of 1993, Ben Kilham, a naturalist who lives in the woodlands of New Hampshire, began raising a pair of orphaned wild black bears. The experience changed his life.

While spending thousands of hours with the cubs, Kilham


A first-person account of wild bear behavior that is both a thrilling animal story and a groundbreaking work of science.

In the spring of 1993, Ben Kilham, a naturalist who lives in the woodlands of New Hampshire, began raising a pair of orphaned wild black bears. The experience changed his life.

While spending thousands of hours with the cubs, Kilham discovered unknown facets of bear behavior that have radically revised our understanding of animal behavior. Now widely recognized for his contributions to wildlife science, Kilham reveals that bears are altruistic and cooperate with unrelated, even unknown individuals, while our closer relatives, the supposedly more highly evolved chimps, cooperate only within troops of recognizable members.

Kilham, who turned a disability, dyslexia, to his advantage as a naturalist, offers fascinating insights into the emotional life of bears. His work-which has been featured in several National Geographic television specials-also illustrates the powerful black bear intelligence that has survived bounties and overhunting to make them North America's dominant omnivore, familiar to every reader. Beyond the natural history, he introduces individual bears who become enthralling and memorable characters.

As in the bestselling books by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Among the Bears explores the breaking down of mutual suspicion and building up of trust between species, with its hopeful implications for the shared future of humans and animals in the wild.

Editorial Reviews

Marc Hauser
Among the Bears provides the first in-depth discussion of what it is like to be a bear. It is a passionate account told by Ben Kilham,a naturalist who has dedicated a lifetime to understanding what makes bears tick. After reading this book,you will never again think of bears in the same way. Yes,they are greedy and cute,but they are also much, much more.
Sy Montgomery
A riveting story by a maverick researcher. This important book will challenge your notions of how animals think,how young mammals learn,and the ways in which bears and people see the world. Ben Kilham's humble and clear-eyed view of these highly intelligent animals,at once so like humans and yet so different,deserves a place beside Jane Goodall's studies of the chimpanzees of Gombe.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
An absorbing, often searing account of one of the world's most interesting animals,this wonderfully comprehensive account is a fitting tribute to the black bear, and also to its author,Ben Kilham, for his insight and dedication.
George B. Schaller
Among the Bears is the best book I have read about these subtle and intriguing creatures. It shows how even an amateur naturalist with empathy,dedication, and acute observation can obtain important and illuminating insights into the life of a species that seemed well known.
Publishers Weekly
Like any expectant parent, naturalist Kilham anticipated challenges in raising the newborns who joined his family in 1993. But as the "mother" to orphaned black bear twin cubs, he had no Dr. Spock to turn to for advice. A licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Kilham wanted to raise the cubs to live successfully in the wild, but had to rely largely on his own common sense to achieve this goal. So he let the cubs teach him, by closely observing and noting their behavior as they rambled together in New Hampshire's northern woods. This engrossing account, which Kilham wrote with the help of naturalist writer Gray, is both an affecting story of interspecies friendship and a surprising refutation of ursine stereotypes. To date, Kilham has raised 26 black bears; the experience has convinced him that, contrary to popular belief, these large carnivores are highly social and are as intelligent as the great apes; they can teach, learn and even deceive. Black bears, Kilham insists, can be "remorseful, empathetic, fearful, selfish, altruistic, joyful and deceitful" and have developed "mechanisms for solving disputes and demonstrating need." With the human population encroaching ever deeper into bear territory, however, human ignorance can create "problem" bears who raid backyard bird feeders or garbage cans. Having lost several of his young bears to bullets from such property owners, Kilham urges people to attempt a better understanding of an animal he finds "closely related" to humans. This important book is sure to be a milestone in the study of animal behavior. 8-page color insert not seen by PW. National author tour. (Mar. 6) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An intuitive appreciation of young bear behavior, observed and gathered at ground level, from wildlife rehabilitator Kilham. The New Hampshire state wildlife department asked Kilham to adopt a couple of bear cubs six years ago. His work with those cubs, and a selection of other cubs from more recent vintages, are chronicled here. Kilham doesn't pose as an expert, and his writing is of the unvarnished variety, but he quickly and easily establishes himself as an observant individual who makes sensible comments upon the vast amount of fieldwork he has done. His plan was to "raise the cubs in as natural a set of circumstances as possible," so that they might return to the wild. He frames this narrative as a story of their days together, he and the cubs, and lets the information slowly accrue before attempting any conjectures on the bears' behavior. He forms a very close bond with the cubs, but there is always that unpredictable quality to the bears that reminds Kilham and reader alike that these are wild creatures and that the ground we share is shaky with potential misunderstandings and palpable consequences. Kilham has got opinions about such traits as altruism ("thought by many to be solely a human trait," but regarded by just as many as an established animal behavior), self-recognition, the use of tools, as well as everyday survival behavior such as food finding, all buttressed by copious direct observation. He has even discovered an organ in the bear's mouth, "probably to be known as the Kilham organ," used to identify plant chemistry. Where he really shines, though, is in bear-sound interpretation, including a glossary of sounds from moans to "eh-eh" to "huh, huh, huh, huh, huh,"something you ought never hope to hear. The kind of primary research that leads to those rare insights that come to be known as understanding. (8-page color insert, not seen) Author tour

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.74(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

Because we had two females this time we needed names to distinguish them. We named one Curls for the curly hair on her forehead; the other, who was smaller, became Squirty. The boy we left at that-The Boy. Almost immediately they began to show not only their physically distinguishing marks, but their personalities as well. Within a month, while the cubs were still upstairs, The Boy began escaping from the pen and letting loose with a series of distress calls as soon as he found himself separated from his sisters, who would then try to join him. Already he was showing himself to be the explorer of the group.

One of the immediate differences I could see between raising these new cubs and the first two was that I could now recognize their behaviors as they developed. Whenever they were scared, either by a sound or a smell, they would "tree" to the highest pillow on the bed or on me if I were with them, all the way up to my head and shoulders. They suckled my ears and fingers and wrestled to bond with each other and with me. In my case they wrestled with my hand, but I knew what it meant. Even today-in her sixth year and at times well over two hundred pounds-when I meet her in the woods every spring, Squirty and I wrestle to get reaquainted.

Meet the Author

Benjamin Kilham is a woodsman and naturalist who over the past twenty-five years has discovered and then field-tested a new, exciting wildlife biology. Ed Gray is a naturalist writer and founder of Gray's Sporting Journal. They both live in Lyme, New Hampshire.

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