It all begin innocently enough, I was doing a photo-series on a new historical site in South Carolina named, Charlestown Landing. The site included an innovative wildlife center that presented wildlife that were indigenous to the Charleston low country when settlers first arrived. The wildlife area was being developed under the guidance of famous wildlife biologist and “Wild Kingdom” TV star, Jim Fowler.

The wildlife center was completed and open to visitors when Jim told me that an alligator had managed to invade the Black Bear compound and would I be willing to go into the compound and photograph the encounter of the bears with the alligator. I agreed, as I had been inside the compound before and considered the Black Bears personal friends. One of these bears, the oldest in fact, was a three legged bear that had lost a leg to an “aimless” hunter several years past.  He had been a ward of the state wildlife service since that time.

Well, of course, it was the three legged bear that spotted the alligator and was on his way to investigate. I entered the compound, camera ready, and positioned myself a safe distance from the area, but close enough to get good photos.  The bear hobbled up to the alligator with no hostility and nudged the alligator with his good forepaw. The alligator responded by rapidly turning toward the bear and grabbed his paw in its jaws. The roar that followed so startled me, I dropped my camera and just watched both stunned and a bit frightened. With a quick fling of its leg, the bear sent the alligator on a flying trip into the streamlet that coursed through the compound. Stunned but unhurt the alligator finally half swam, half waddled its way up the streamlet and out of the compound. The bear then turned and came directly toward me.

Long ago, I learned that one does not try to run from bears, even three legged ones. I stood very still and just waited saying friendly “Hellos” to the approaching bear. He stopped about five feet from me looking me straight in the eyes and reared to full height on his hind-legs. Still chattering greetings and compliments I eased a little to my right. The bear moved with me still maintaining his upright stance and distance. He began sniffing the air while still looking directly at me. It was then I hoped he would recognize my scent as an old friendly visitor. At the same time I shifted a little more to the right in hopes of getting closer to the compound entrance gate. Of course, the bear shifted with me; still sniffing and still upright. It was then I heard Jim laughingly call to me, “are you guys going to dance all morning?”

Jim’s call distracted the bear and he dropped down onto all three legs. He gave me one more hard look, a very disgusted sounding snort and ambled back toward the far side of the compound where his cohorts were huddled. I grabbed my camera and backed slowly away to the compound gate and let myself out. I was shaking. The after-reaction had set in and so I just sat down on the ground to catch my breath and begin to remember my short but exciting dance with a three-legged bear.

All of the above happened over 40 years ago, but I have never forgotten it or that three-legged bear who I remember with considerable fondness.  He did let me go rather then send me flying after the alligator. Maybe he did remember my scent and excused an old friend his impropriety. I never went back into the bear compound, but regularly visited it from the visitor area and would always whistle a greeting to that tough old bruin.

The following video is not of my dance partner, but illustrates exactly how he was able to overcome the handicap of only three legs. A bold, brave and determined wild creature’s survival.