Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me about Intelligence and Intuition by Benjamin Kilham for a Booklist review, Bonnie and I were preparing for a September trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone national parks. I read some of the author's descriptions of bear-human encounters with great interest. In the back of my mind - not very far back - I was thinking, "I do not want to have to use any of this knowledge."
I remember thinking that it would help to have Kilham along on our hikes, as he is very attuned to bears, able to see signs of their proximity and read their facial expressions and posture. His knowledge comes from 20 years of serving as a foster parent for orphaned black bears in northern New Hampshire. As a bear mom, he not only insured the cubs survived their being orphaned but also taught necessary skills for their being returned to the wild. Kilham has returned many bears to the wild and maintains good relations with some of them, particularly Squirty, who has allowed him to observe her raising her own cubs. He often walks among the bears who remember being taken for walks by him.
Out on a Limb is Kilham's second book about his work with bears. The first was Among the Bears (2002) in which he recounted his taking young bears on walks to learn to forage, hunt, and avoid dangers. While some of the dangers were natural, others were the result of human invasion into the realm of the bears. In many cases, it was human actions that resulted in the young bears being orphaned and brought to Kilham. In his second book, he recounts what he has learned from his continuing studies of bears in the wild. With the intuition that he believes that he has, honed by his dyslexia, he claims to have made new discoveries about bear behavior. Some scientists dispute his findings.
Out on a Limb is part natural history and part memoir and always interesting. Kilham is devoted to his bears which he thinks can serve as models to compare with early primates in terms of social behavior. Many will find his book inspiring.
By the way, we obviously returned from Bear Country safely, seeing bears only at great distance or from our car. It was exciting enough.
Kilham, Benjamin. Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me about Intelligence and Intuition. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013. 248p. ISBN 9781603583909.