Grandfather Mountain, the not-for-profit nature park run by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, is welcoming a new member to its family of beloved animals in the Mildred the Bear Animal Habitats: Fanny May, a five-year-old black bear with a big personality.
Fanny May arrived at Grandfather Mountain in the spring of 2021 after the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission approached the nonprofit nature preserve about a bear that needed placement. Fortunately, the park had room for an additional bear and agreed to take her in after deeming her to be a good fit for the facility.
Since Fanny’s arrival, Christie Tipton, Habitats Curator with the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, and her staff have worked diligently over the past year to help the new bear become accustomed to her surroundings. They have even deployed some unique ways to make Fanny feel right at home.
“Moving into a new environment like she did, she was a little stressed. So we took our time working with her and spent a lot of time with her, talking to her and getting her used to her new keepers and new home. In order to do that, we actually asked some of our volunteers to come down and read to her,” Tipton said.
Fanny’s first months on the mountain were accompanied with stories read to her by volunteers Ken and Barb Tatje. The volunteers shared some of their favorite books with Fanny, including the Bible and children’s classics such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
The couple, who have been volunteering for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation for the past eight years, are part of a long tradition of volunteers and staff members who read to the mountain’s new animals in order to help them become accustomed to the humans entrusted with their care.
“We started reading to the cougars when they came here six years ago to help them become more comfortable. It worked pretty well, so this past year when Fanny arrived, they asked us to come down and read to her. Fanny became accustomed to hearing our voices and seeing us. It helped her feel less stressed and to relax more,” Ken Tatje said.
A relaxed bear is also a bear that will eat more consistently. However, the keepers quickly found out that as is the case with most five-years-old, Fanny turned out to be a picky eater. In order to get Fanny accustomed to the healthy diet plan that all of the mountain’s animals are fed, the keepers had to entice Fanny’s sweet tooth.
“We had to get a bit creative with her diet, because she wasn’t used to the diet that our bears are fed, which includes a dry omnivore kibble and lots of veggies and fruits like apples, carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, lettuce, and berries. We started putting little bits of sweet stuff like honey in her food to encourage her to eat her new food. Now she is eating all of her food very well, and one of her favorite treats is watermelon,” Tipton said.
As the mountain’s keepers have gotten to know Fanny over the past year, they have found her to be a very youthful and exuberant bear. As the mountain’s youngest of the six bears in the bear habitat, Fanny has shown a fascination for the toys and enrichments that the keepers share with her. She can often be found playing with these enrichments in her enclosure and doing what the keepers refer to as “bear yoga,” or the interesting positions the bears get in by stretching their legs out or sticking their paws up in the air.
However, what has impressed the keepers most of all about Fanny is her innate intelligence and the way she has picked up the daily routine rather quickly.
“Fanny May is an extremely smart bear. She was able to pick up on everything from shifting into her holding area to eat, so we can get in her habitat to clean, to scale training her to weigh her every month,” Tipton said. “Since she has been here, she has become very relaxed. She loves to come and hang out with us while on the other side of the fence. She has become very accustomed to her new home.”
While Fanny has become accustomed to her keepers, she is still hesitant around strangers. For that reason, she is slowly being introduced to guests. Sporadically throughout the year, the keepers will be putting her in the on-display habitats so visitors get a chance to see her and she gets used to seeing the visitors at the overlooks.
You can help support the care of Grandfather Mountain’s resident animals by symbolically adopting Fanny May and the other habitat animals by visiting www.grandfather.com/adopt. Animal adoptions also make great gifts.