About this time a year ago, residents of a small neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe started seeing a bear on a pretty regular basis. There were several apple trees scattered between the houses and the bear, after discovering free food, decided this was the place for dinner. So she would come out about dusk, climb the trees, and feast on the apples. This much exposure is unusual. Usually, we don’t see our bears. We know they are there but as they are very people shy, they come out after people are in.
At the end of September, beginning of October, the South Lake Tahoe neighbors were seeing the bear around dinner time every night. The daughter of one of the neighbors thought the bear’s pawprint looked like a lilypad. So they named the bear Lily. As they were all long time locals, the neighbors knew enough to lock up their trash. They certainly didn’t want this bear to develop any bad habits.
In early December, one homeowner realized that Lily had moved in under her back deck. Not knowing what to expect from this action, the homeowner and a neighbor contacted the Tahoe Bear League for advise. They met with the director, Ann Bryant, who talked them through the situation. They had a couple of options. They could scare the bear off or they could let the bear hibernate there for the winter. As it turned out, Lily was setting up a den because she was having a cub. Scaring her off could jeopardize the life of the cub. And that was the last thing the homeowner wanted, to endanger the cub.
So the neighbors decided to learn what they could about black bears, how they behave and how they could coexist. They learned that once the cub was born and was old enough to climb a tree, the mother would take the cub and move into the forest, never to return.
The situation was very fortunate for all concerned. The homeowner was fortunate that the bear had moved in under the deck, not the house where there could be damage done to the insulation, plumbing and/or electrical. Lily was fortunate that she moved into a neighborhood with humans who were animal lovers and were determined to learn about bears. It was also fortunate that the neighborhood had a lot of second homes, which were empty, and vacation rentals, which were used mostly on the weekends, so there weren’t hoards of people swarming around 24/7. The neighborhood folks, those who lived there, were fortunate that Lily wasn’t mean or had already learned bad habits. The situation became an experience of a lifetime.
On January 25, 2012 Lily gave birth to a cub. The homeowner and neighbor could stand on the deck and listen to Lily and her cub gurgling and nursing, something that doesn’t happen in normal, everyday life. And because the neighbors had taken some ownership of Lily, as much as you can with a wild bear, they named the cub Cole. Cole made his appearance to the neighborhood at the end of April.
Lily and Cole became part of the daily routine. They never ventured far from the den under the deck, staying within it’s relative safety. Everyone close got to watch Cole develop.
In May, Cole learned how to climb a tree for safety. There are many trees in South Lake Tahoe perfect for natural habitation. Once they saw that, the neighbors knew their extraordinary adventure was coming to a close. And a couple of weeks later, Lily and Cole left the comfort of the deck and moved into the forest. No one has seen them since, but they have fond memories and great images of the two.
The images became part of an exhibit at the Gatekeeper’s Museum in Tahoe City (not in South Lake Tahoe). Titled “Ursus Among Us: the American Black Bear in the Tahoe Basin”, the exhibit is the Museum’s first original exhibit in nearly a decade.
Learning about American Black Bears and how to live peacefully with them is an important thing if you live in the South Lake Tahoe area or any place where black bears are. The experience these neighbors had has added to the general knowledge base for black bears. And that’s good. But more importantly, it has added a memory that will always be cherished and never replicated.