Humble Bumble with his friend BoychukPhoto by: Earthfire

He was found at a roadside zoo, just a few weeks old, and it was clear even then that he was a “differently-abled” bear. Now four years old he is enormous for his age, but it isn’t the size you notice first – it is a gentleness, an innocence. It is in the expression of his face, in his movements, the whole feeling he emanates. Most animals at Earthfire have names reflecting their magnificence – Northwind, the wolf; Windwalker the cougar. But as we watched him play, sweetly, gently, not too coordinated, not too quick on the draw, the name just came out – Humble Bumble.

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When we first brought him home he would lie on his back in our arms absolutely rigid, eyes staring straight ahead with the whites showing, sucking ineffectually at his bottle for 20-30 minutes at a time taking in no nourishment, trying to sooth himself with a sort of panicked burbling sound. It took us months to ease him. We tried to figure out the best life we could give him. He could never survive in the wild or even with our other bears. He would become the butt of their bear jokes in their rough and tumble play; the picked-on kid wanting so badly to be accepted. But each living creature has their own special gift to give, and Humble Bumble has his – everybody who sees him falls in love with him. Quite a feat for a grizzly bear. A unique spokes-bear for his kind.

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In addition to suffering some kind of past terror, Humble is learning-disabled. One of the things he has to teach us is how much alike we all are in the end, animals and people. He is learning disabled in the same sense as a child would be. If he were human, he would be dyslexic. Given hay for the winter, the other bears arrange it carefully in a snug bed. Humble’s hay is scattered in a chaotic pile. Easily scared, he doesn’t know what to do with himself when he is scared. He just panics. Given an egg as a treat, something he had never seen before, was cause for retreating to a corner for 15 minutes. He gathered up his courage after it didn’t move, gingerly approached it, smacked it, and dashed back to his corner again to see if it would attack him. Very sensitive, his emotions go wildly up and down and he has a hard time controlling them. It is the double whammy of kids (and bears) who carry the burden of a low frustration tolerance, linked with a temperament that is easily frustrated. But there is no meanness in him anywhere, just a loving naive approach to the world, and a courageous effort to struggle with his physical and mental limitations.

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His brain doesn’t process information clearly – his world wobbles in front of him. But when we urge him to work on his coordination he bravely walks across boulders, and you can see him take in his breath with a sense of pride as he finishes. To see the care and affection with which Humble Bumble holds back his strength as he plays with his friend, Boychuk, the German Shepard, one tenth his size, is to add a new dimension to one’s perception of bears. In general, Humble Bumble is a bear of character.

by Susan Eirich, Ph.D.

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