ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) – A black bear attracts a crowd everywhere she goes on an Alaskan military base to the point that she calls herself by her first name to the military community she regularly sees on base .
Betty is a hulking figure weighing approximately 250 pounds who has become Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s blind neighborhood black bear.
Because she lacks eyesight, Betty often appears in public spaces where many people can see her and interact with her, such as under a waterslide or outside someone’s door.
James Wendland, chief officer of the JBER Conservation Law Enforcement Office, said Betty was like a celebrity on base.
“Everyone who knows her wants to take a look, see her and take some good pictures,” he said.
KTUU reports that the bears are a popular sight on the base. Wendland said his team often handles one or two bear situations a day. However, he said they always know when the bear is Betty.
“She kind of feels her way,” Wendland said. “But the most important thing is that if she goes over something, she will always turn around and go back to where she can put her feet first. It doesn’t matter if it’s a barrier of jersey or a dumpster, so it’s very easy for us to identify him by his movements alone.
Wendland first noticed Betty in 2018 walking around the base with her two cubs. It was then that he saw that she was beginning to lose her sight.
For the past five years, his team has worked to help keep him safe on base.
“We have to treat her totally differently than any other bear because she can’t see,” Wendland said. “So we have to ask others to help us. Mainly to make sure traffic is stopped so they don’t get hit by a car or have a car accident. We also have to be very careful about where we let her sleep for the day.
Everyone guesses where Betty will end up each day, having to rely mostly on her hearing to navigate the base.
“(When) she doesn’t hear a lot of people around her, that’s where she’ll lay down for the day and she’ll just take a nap outdoors,” Wendland said.
Wendland warns that residents should always give her space when she makes an appearance.
“Don’t get too close. It’s still not the neighborhood dog you can climb up and take a selfie with. They are always bears. Give them lots of room, lots of room,” Wendland said.
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