From black bears to pandas, Ben Kilham has redefined everything we thought we knew about the behavior of bears by getting to know individuals and raising nearly 300 of them personally! Ready for his adorable, inspirational discoveries?

Bears have way more going on than being independent carnivores! And most researchers and conservationists didn’t have a clue until this man stepped on the scene. Prepare to fall in love with these unique creatures as we stumble into a trick for better, more effective rehabilitation that seems so simple it’s been lost on us—until now!

Image: Ben on the ground with two bear cubs playing on top of him

Courtesy of the Ben Kilham and the Kilham Bear Center
Photo taken by Robert Caputo for National Geographic

The Ultimate Papa Bear!

Bear cubs are really, really cute. I think we all agree on that, but what you may not know is these adorable, fluffy, eventually enormous creatures stay by their mom’s side in the wilderness learning key survival techniques until they’re almost two. So what happens to these little balls of fluff if their mother dies or they somehow get separated? Well, unfortunately, I think we can all guess—and due to the long-held scientific belief that bears were completely independent, solitary animals, there wasn’t much anyone thought they could do but to let nature run its course.

Image: three bear cubs

Orphaned bear cubs at the Kilham Bear Center
Courtesy of Ben Kilham

Then, in steps Ben Kilham!

Ben is an Independent Wildlife Biologist, licensed by the state of New Hampshire as a Wildlife Rehabilitator, and he has studied the behavior of black bears for over 25 years. Together with his sister, Phoebe Kilham, and his wife Debbie, they have rehabilitated and released nearly 300 bears back to the wild since 1993!

For years, the scientific world believed black bears were solitary, independent animals incapable of much socialization, but Ben has reversed this belief through his studies. He has proven that black bears are highly social and intelligent creatures who form friendships, trade resources, and communicate with high levels of intention and emotion! 1

Ben receives black bear cubs, some newborn and some abandoned at an older age, from all over the northeast United States. These babes would otherwise die in the wilderness separated from their mother.

In one fall, he received over 70 new cubs into his care. Can you imagine that many animals being dropped off at your home? I have two large dogs and most days I think that’s too many!

Image: bears swimming

A big group of cubs taking a swim!
Courtesy of Ben Kilham

Eventually, Ben’s success releasing rehabilitated North American Black Bears back into the wild gained so much attention that scientists from China recruited his help in doing the same with Giant Pandas! After years of working tirelessly to increase the Giant Panda population in the country, scientists worked with Ben to learn his techniques for releasing captive-born pandas into their native habitat to survive on their own. And after implementing some of Ben’s tactics, they saw immediate changes in the pandas’ behavior. (You can learn about this success on the big screen in the iMax movie Pandas, narrated by Kristen Bell.)

I could go on and on about Ben Kilham’s life and research, but let’s get to the good stuff: seeing him with those adorable, playful cubs!

Here he is in a wonderful piece from the New Hampshire Chronicle that gives us a glimpse into a day in the life of Ben and his bears.

Via: WMUR-TV  2

Thanks to the team at the New Hampshire Chronicle for featuring Ben Kilham’s work! Check out other great stories on their Chronicle playlist found here.

“The first thing she did when she got to me was crawl up my chest, look me in the eyes, and then give me a kiss on the lips.”

GAH! I’m not sure it gets much sweeter than that. Ben feeds them, walks them, and puts them to bed. He truly is the ultimate papa bear!

If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering right about now how long it would take you to get to New Hampshire and cuddle up to some of those babies. But unfortunately the answer is: we can’t. In order for the bears to have the greatest chance of success in the wild, Ben needs to keep their contact with humans at a minimum.

But here’s another way to support his work:

Check out the Kilham Bear Center’s website to donate and learn more about his incredible foundation. (Plus he updates it from time to time with pictures of new cubs!)

And remember, folks: as tempted as you may be, don’t try this at home! You need to hold a state license in order to rehabilitate and release animals back into the wild. So this is, unfortunately, one of those things we need to leave to the professionals.

Image: Ben Kilham with multiple bear cubs all over him

Ben Kilham with cubs at the Kilham Bear Center
Courtesy of Ben Kilham

Getting to know the neighbors

Outside of being adorable, we now know that black bears are playful, affectionate, intelligent animals. This simple knowledge, gained from just paying a little more attention, has completely changed how we interact with them, support abandoned cubs, and restore their homes.

After this, I’m wondering what misconceptions we might have about other wild animals?

Just imagine what would happen if we challenged those beliefs by paying a little more attention, like Ben Kilham did. Could we help other animals thrive, too? Could we all live better alongside each other? I bet so!

If you found Ben’s work to be as brilliant and beautiful as I did, then you definitely want to take a minute to read one of these following articles. Each one shows you a different side of an animal that you think you may already know!

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“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

Yours,

Callie

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Notes:

  1. Kilham, Ben “BLACK BEAR SOCIAL BEHAVIOR.” Benkilham.com, 2015, www.benkilham.com/BLACK_BEAR_BEHAVIOR.html. Accessed 22 Mar. 2021.
  2. WMUR-TV. “Tuesday, June 11th: Bear Expert Ben Kilham in ‘Pandas.’” YouTube, 12 June 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiWleKESqAA. Accessed 22 Mar. 2021.

Callie joined the EWC team just a few short months ago, and she'll never be the same! Her greatest joy is seeing this amazing world through the eyes of her son. You can find them, together with her husband and two German shepherds, outside in the woods adventuring and exploring all there is to find.