Bear Huggers

In addition to the intellectual and spiritual awe that wildlife elicits in the lover of nature, it is undeniable that many of the furry, feathered, and fluffy fauna that share our planet are downright cute.

Many humans have a soft spot for critters, especially the baby variety. Puppies and kittens get all the attention, but babies in the wild conjure just as many heart emojis and internet shares as their domesticated counterparts. Typically, it’s rather dangerous to embrace a specific subset of baby animals. Infant lions might be adorable, but, unless you’re a degreed animal researcher or a paying customer of a zoo program, getting cuddly with them might not be good for prolonging your lifespan. Likewise, the bear cubs you might spot in the Smokeys could prompt you to give out scritches, but mama bear isn’t going to be pleased.

If hugging Fido or Puss isn’t enough for you, though, the state of New Mexico has you covered. You can become a professional bear hugger!

A bear hugger with the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish recently posted job openings for “bear huggers.”

Technically, the position is for Conservation Officer, but that sounds less glamorous. And if you wondered if there were a catch to spending time with bear cubs, you were certainly correct. Conservation Officers have more duties than simply hugging charming cubs.

According to the official description, officers “can be found patrolling the lands and waters of the state day and night. Most people will tell you that enforcing the game and fish laws is their primary responsibility, but the job doesn’t stop there. In addition to enforcement, the conservation officer educates the public about wildlife and wildlife management, conducts wildlife surveys, captures “problem animals,” investigates wildlife damage to crops and property, assists in wildlife relocations and helps to develop new regulations.”

Reading that characterization, one might notice the omission of “hugging bears.” That perk comes in the form of “wildlife surveys.” The Department doesn’t just cuddle bears for the tactile benefit, but to monitor bear populations in New Mexico. And, once again, there’s a little catch. If you want to hug the bear, you gotta extract the bear.

Extracting a hibernating bear cub - photo from New Mexico Department of Game & Fish

Part of the post made by the Department reads: “Must have ability to hike in strenuous conditions, have the courage to crawl into a bear den, and have the trust in your coworkers to keep you safe during the process.”

Hugging a bear requires having the boldness to snoop into a hibernating bear’s den to extract cubs for the purpose of tracking them via tagging technology. They later add that they do not recommend crawling into bear dens on one’s own and, if they catch you doing so, they’ll “have a chat with you.” Simultaneously, they remind us not to feed bears. All sound advice.

Additionally, applicants need to have “a Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited college or university in biological sciences, police science or law enforcement, natural resources conservation, ecology, or related fields.”

With all these added layers, I’m starting to sense that hugging bears was a bit of a come-on. Still, their notion that, should one take the job, one could “have the experience of a lifetime” is hard to refute when you see photos such as these:

Sleepy bear paws - N.M. Dept. of Game & Fish
The perks of the job - N.M. Dept. of Game & Fish

Of course, reading into the official job description, a Conservation Officer doesn’t just work with bears. The department made a second post for people who might want to hug cute animals but don’t quite have the chutzpah to amble into a bear den.

They’re also hiring deer protectors!

“Bambi doesn’t have a thing on the real-life version. Which means as spring gets near, our Conservation Officers must respond to many baby deer reports. Fawns are often left unattended by their mothers while they feed. They always return to the fawn, which is kept hidden away from predators. If you find a fawn, LEAVE IT ALONE! The mother will come back to feed and nurture it. The calls our officers receive are usually from someone who picked up a fawn who thinks its been abandoned. This makes it extremely difficult to reunite the fawn with the mother, which puts additional stress on the fawn.”

Although people mean well, finding a baby deer on its own is not something with which we should interfere. The mistake of the citizen means that Conservation Officers sometimes get to hug another species of baby, though.

Let chilling fawns lie - N.M. Dept. of Game & Fish

The New Mexico Department of Game & Fish notes that officers can “make a difference for wildlife in your community.” While the work might mostly be tough and non-huggy, this viewpoint is noble and meritorious.

Helping living things is always good. If you get to hug a baby bear or deer along the way, all the better!

Further Reading and Exploration

New Mexico Department of Game & Fish – Official Website

Now Hiring Bear Huggers – Department Online Post

Now Hiring Deer Protectors – Department Online Post

Conservation Officer Description and Application Process – NMDGF

New Mexico black bear – Bear Conservation

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