A bear bit my husband last April. True story.
My husband, Mike, loves bears. He can list more facts about bears than I can about my own family. So when we saw a South Dakota tourism commercial with a clip of 15 black bear cubs romping in an enclosure, Mike’s immediate response was, “Where is this and how do we get there?”
The “where” is Bear Country USA, a 250-acre wildlife safari park outside of Rapid City, S.D. The park was opened in 1972 by Dr. Dennis “Doc” Casey and his wife Pauline to provide visitors “with an enjoyable, educational, and unique North American wildlife experience” and to promote the preservation of North American wildlife. Forty years later, the park is still owned and operated by Pauline Casey and three of her children (Shannon, Mike and John) and offers a wide variety of North American mammals on display, all captive-born and raised.
Bear Country’s biggest event of the year is Cubfest, a midspring festival when visitors to the park can meet the new cubs born that year. Around the end of March, the cubs are removed from their mothers’ dens. (This is for their safety and to get them used to humans to help manage them as they grow older.)
During the period between their time in the den and their transition to solid foods, they are bottle-fed and able to be handled — and Cubfest visitors have the opportunity to touch the cubs and take pictures. But it’s only during one of their private bear cub feedings — an event with a year-long waitlist and a $70 per-person price tag — that a visitor is allowed to hold or feed them.
When we arrived for our session, we expected to receive a brief introduction lecture, some safety guidelines and maybe 30 minutes of feeding the bear cub and watching it play. We didn’t expect to each feed and interact with our own cub for an entire hour.
Our video of the session clocked us at 56 minutes from the moment the first cub was placed in Mike’s arms to when the second cub left mine. We even got a picture of a cub investigating Mike’s nose with its mouth which, according to Mike, was awesome — and slimy.
Let me tell you, it was worth every penny.
We hope to come back to Bear Country USA, to visit during their regular season when their drive is open and their full array of animals have emerged from hibernation. But our visit this year, however brief, will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
Or, at least, until Mike wants on the waiting list again.