The Transylvania Times -

Bill Lea Talks About The 'Misunderstood' Black Bear


June 17, 2019

The Transylvania County Library Rogow Room was recently packed to hear, and see, nature photographer Bill Lea’s presentation: “Understanding the Misunderstood Black Bear.”

Audience members heard Lea tell stories of the most memorable black bears throughout his career and what he learned from each one. He kept the audience laughing and engaged with his photos and stories.

Lea’s most central message throughout the talk was that “bears are just like us.”

Lea has been a nature photographer for nearly 20 years and is perhaps most famous for his work capturing black bears in photos. He spends weeks at a time following some bears, and by spending so much time with these animals, Lea gains an in-depth understanding of each bear’s personality and relationship to their environment.

Unlike a scientist, who may take a broad approach to studying bear behavior as a whole, Lea said he thinks of bears as individuals with appearances and personalities as diverse as the human species.

Among the many bears he’s photographed, Lea told stories of bears that were good moms, some that were not as attentive to their cubs, bears that liked to play wrestle, bears that were sleepy in the morning, bears that suffered intense emotional pain after losing a cub and bears that walked upright on their hind legs due to injuries. He photographed many bear families and told stories of how bear cubs are raised by their mothers.

Lea was careful to dispel common myths about black bears that lead to intolerant attitudes. He said that many confuse black bears with grizzly bears, and due to media sensationalism they are often feared as dangerous creators.

In reality, though, Lea said he wouldn’t approach a bear any different than he would approach a Doberman pinscher – calmly, respectfully and cautiously. When asked if they’ve every encountered a bear, most audience members raised their hands and questions at the end of the presentation centered on how to co-exist successfully with bears.

“Bears can live with people, but people are often unwilling to co-exist with bears,” said Lea.

He mentioned many times that humans are a far greater threat to black bears than bears are to humans.

In areas with high bear presence, Lea suggested removing any food rewards from the property, and that oftentimes nuisance bears are simply following a reliable food source, which can be common outdoor sources, such as garbage scraps, grill drippings, bird seeds and pet food.

After answering several questions from the audience, Lea finished his talk by saying, “I’m not a biologist. I’m just a photographer that fell in love with bears, saw the injustice toward bears and misunderstanding, and thus I do this as a way to try to be an advocate on their behalf.”

Lea has authored several coffee table books featuring his nature photography from areas across the country and co-founded a nature sanctuary with his wife, Klari, in northern Minnesota. He said through his photography and speaking engagements he hopes he can foster a greater appreciation for nature and all living things.


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