Morgan Levy: Environmental Scientist and Wildlife Educator

During my third year at Carthage, I had the wonderful opportunity of living with my very own Wilderness Explorer, Morgan Levy. At the time, she was working toward a degree in Environmental Scientist with a concentration in conservation and ecology. Translation: she spent a lot of time talking about nature and everything in it. More specifically, she spent quite some time telling me all about her time working with bears in Ely, Minnesota. One day, I finally decided to listen. She even shared information about bears that I had never thought to be true - until now.

HC: What is your background with bears?

ML: I was lucky enough to work as a Bear Educator Intern at the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota. There, I worked with the same four bears every single day and they quite literally became some of my best friends. Every aspect of bear care was my responsibility. This included feedings, giving medication and taking care of the bears' physical and mental health. In addition to this, I was responsible for teaching education programs like "Behind the Scenes Tours" for visitors and presenting live-stream podcasts for our online watchers and listeners.

HC: Why did you want to work at the bear center?

ML: I hadn't considered working with bears prior to January of 2017. I took a J-Term trip through the Audubon Center called "Wolves and Northwoods Carnivores: Predatory Ecology." Black bears are omnivores, but they were still briefly discussed in the class. During one portion of the class, we were able to visit the bear center and have a conversation with Dr. Lynn Rogers, a biologist who has spent over 50 years studying black bears. He spoke with so much passion, it was almost impossible to not be moved by it. After the group discussion, I was able to speak with him and 40 minutes later, I had an internship application in my hand.

HC: What was your favorite part about working with black bears?

ML: My favorite part of working with our four bears was how I got to learn each of their individual personalities. Ted was the sweet old man who loved everyone and especially strawberries. Tasha was the baby. She was a little more cautious and less predictable, but just as sweet and loving. When we weren't doing a program or if we weren't super busy, I'd just go sit next to these bears for hours. Sometimes, we'd even listen to music. Lucky seemed to be a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

HC: What were some of the questions you got during the behind the scenes tour?

ML: Oh, I got the typical questions you'd want to ask somebody whose hand is inside a bear's mouth. I just always explained to the visitors that our bears know how well they have it at the NABC and wouldn't want to jeopardize that. None of our bears would do well in the wild and they all have reasons that brought them into captivity. I would also explain that the bears are very smart and they know the difference between human flesh and hazelnuts, and they definitely prefer the hazelnuts. My favorite thing was when a visitor told me that I had the greatest job in the world. To that, I'd always reply back with "oh yeah. Absolutely."

HC: I'm going to list some myths about bears. Can you tell me whether or not they're true?

ML: Bring. It. On.

HC: Mother bears are the fiercest animals and will do anything to protect their cubs.

ML: This is true for some species, but not all of them. Cubs stay with their mother for about 16 months, before they go through what's called a "family breakup." But during those months, if a mother black bear senses danger, she'll try to communicate with her cubs to seek shelter, which is typically in the form of climbing a tree. The mother will then run away and come back for her cubs when the treat is gone.

HC: Bears attack people.

ML: Black bears exhibit a type of behavior called a bluff charge or blustering. This is when they take a couple of very determined, hard steps toward their subject, often exhaling forcefully through their nose. This usually gets mistaken for the start of an attack, though it is not meant to be offensive or aggressive. It's a show of apprehension. It's basically the bear's way of saying "I'm not sure what you are and I am uncomfortable so just give me a minute." But black bears are terrified of everything and they're very noise sensitive. I once used a fidget spinner too close to one of our bears and she got so spooked that she wouldn't come near me until I brought her favorite food.

HC: Bears only eat honey.

ML: This is a crowd favorite because of Winnie-the-Pooh. Some bears do go into beehives, but it's not for honey - it's for immature larvae. 

HC: Okay, last question. Which bear is the best bear?

ML: Well that's a ridiculous question. There's basically two schools of thought...but black bear. It's black bear.

Thank you, Morgan, for taking the time to sit down and talk about bears! If you're interested in learning more about the NABC, you can check out their website or like them on Facebook.