|Steve Searles began working with the Town of Mammoth Lakes in 1996 and today, is employed as its Wildlife Specialist, teaching humans and bears to coexist through actions and phrases that are recognizable whether you walk on two feet or four. Using unique methods to haze the bears and educate the public, Steve is helping Mammoth properly interact with its wildlife.
Searles is a self-taught bear expert who’s been working with bears for nearly three decades. He helped formulate Yosemite National Park’s initial bear program and also invented the “Scat” kits that are now routinely used for bear aversion/conditioning.
Steve works within the Town of Mammoth Lakes’ limits with rubber bullets, firecrackers, flares, air horns and shouts of “Bad bear!” to establish that he is the biggest, baddest bear around. He reminds the public to keep their trash contained and is always blown away by the love the community has for its bears, even when the critters cause major home destruction as they are apt to do if left unwatched.
Before Searles began his work the bears in Mammoth would have been trapped or shot with a tranquilizer gun – or maybe just shot, period.
“It was never suppose to be this way,” says Steve. “I was just a hunter who wanted to help out and things just fell into place.” Claiming he was always the person least likely to succeed, Steve feels he has made it to this point because he had a message that everyone was hungry for.
“People were tired of killing bears. Even bear hunters don’t want to shoot a bear that’s in a trash bin,” he says. “That’s why people like the idea of teaching them to have fear of people and run away; something that is not instinctual to the bears when they are born.”
Steve is happily married to his wife Deb. “She’s the bomb. She puts up with me and I would be nobody without her.” The two have a son named Tyler.
What it boils down to for Searles and those who work with him is two-sided respect. Humans should respect the bears by cleaning up after themselves and bears should respect humans by not trashing their homes and belongings. Sometimes both just need a reminder and that’s where Steve comes in.
|Steve never names a bear until it has been around for awhile because statistics show that 51 percent of all black bears die before they are 18 months old. Generally named for their physical attributes, the bears listed here are some that Steve interacts with on a regular basis and which are featured in past and upcoming episodes of The Bear Whisperer.
In January 2010, the pilot episode of The Bear Whisperer aired on Animal Planet and was wildly successful. The pilot introduced the world to Steve Searles, Mammoth Lakes, and what Steve does with bears on a daily basis.
According to an article in Mammoth’s local newspaper, The Sheet, “As soon as it aired,” said the show’s Executive Producer Eric Schotz, who runs LMNO Productions, “there were calls for pick up [of future episodes] the next day.”
For that first, two-hour episode, Steve was equipped with a single cameraman, Michael Slee. The two spent the summer of 2009 filming and documenting the bears around Mammoth, and Steve’s interaction with, and training of these wild animals, as well as his message of coexistence. The pilot also featured interviews with several of Mammoth’s locals.
This year, episodes may become more complex in plotlines, but Steve remains his down-to-Earth self.
“The great thing about working with Steve,” joked Schotz, “is that he’s never come to me and asked for makeup.”
Director John Jopson claimed in The Sheet article that Searles is the most complex person he’s ever worked with. Schotz agreed that it’s Searles personality that drives the show.
“He’s not just someone who’s great with bears whose personality is otherwise flatline. Steve’s an emotional character. There’s a lot of up and down.”
Jopson added that Searles is able to maintain his composure and do the job required and then reflect on what’s happened and reveal his feelings afterward.
See more video clips from the pilot episode here.
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