The Bear Whisperer

Meet Steve Searles, the bear whisperer of Mammoth Lakes, California:

Since he became the Police Department's volunteer wildlife specialist in 1996, Searles has gained a national reputation as a bear whisperer, someone who can deal with problem bears without killing them.

He tries to think like a bear. He studies their habits and social hierarchy. He has participated in Native American ceremonies to learn what the tribes perceive as bears' spiritual nature. He even has been known to spread his own urine to drive away territorial animals.

"I'm the biggest, baddest, meanest bear in this town -- that's what I want them to think," said the 48-year-old. "I'm the alpha male, and they must obey me."

But not everyone was happy with Steve's methods: he was eventually fired by the authorities, though he's now back due to popular demand.

Here's the fascinating story of the man who shows the bears who's boss: Link (with video clip)

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I say yay! Go, Steve! I think we can co-exist with bears without driving them out of every square inch of what has always been their territory. Give them space to live, and use methods that they understand (loud noises, rubber bullets...) to keep them out of our living rooms and don't draw them in with our garbage, and both we and the bears can survive.

I live in New Mexico, where we still have a lot of wilderness for the bears and I've had some awesome encounters -- in open land where I see them from a distance and we each go our own way, and once in a narrow canyon where he was between me and my only way out. In this case, he climbed up the canyon side to let me pass. They aren't out there to get us -- they are just trying to survive, and I think they have every right to do so.

Grizzlies are a different matter than black bears, and the Grizzly Man did push the limits to what was obviously a fool-hardy degree (if the goal is to survive -- though the truth is, none of us get out alive), but I bet that if you could interview him in whatever after-life there may be, he'd still be smiling about it and have no regrets.

You want to avoid bears? Move to NYC and surround yourself with muggers and gangsters -- I'd rather the bears.
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