A woman in Highland Lakes, New Jersey, has a strange—and potentially dangerous—relationship with the black bears that live in the woods ne
A woman in Highland Lakes, New Jersey, has a strange—and potentially dangerous—relationship with the black bears that live in the woods near her home. Susan Kehoe is a self-proclaimed environmentalist and animal advocate. She’s been involved in an ongoing campaign to ban bear hunting in her home state, and she’s wound up in court on more than one occasion after rubbing hunters and wildlife managers the wrong way. Kehoe claims to have a unique understanding of black bears and says she’s been accepted by the local bears “as part of their clan.”
Don’t believe her? Just check out this video of Kehoe sweet-talking a small black bear in her own house.
The video was uploaded to YouTube on Oct. 5, and it appears to be filmed by Kehoe herself late last month. It shows a cooperative black bear that steps across Kehoe’s threshold before grabbing the doorknob with its mouth and closing the door.
“Are you playing games with me? Huh?” Kehoe asks the bear after it pushes the door back open with its paw.
Upon closer inspection of the door itself, a paw-sized chunk of paint in the bottom left corner looks faded, as if it’s been scratched and rubbed off over time. Clearly the two have been through this exercise before, and this bear is obviously habituated to humans. It might appear cute, but by treating the bear like her pet, Kehoe is putting both herself and the bear in danger. This behavior is the exact opposite of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s recommendations for safe coexistence with wild bears.
The last fatal black bear attack to occur in New Jersey took place in 2014, and Outdoor Life has already reported on two incidents so far this year that involved black bears attacking humans there. Both attacks occurred in the same county where Kehoe’s video was recorded.
“Close the door, sweetie,” Kehoe continues in the video, cooing as if she were talking to a puppy.
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The bear uses its claws to pull the door close enough to its mouth to bite down on the doorknob again. Then it pulls the door closed ever so gently, and the door locks into place with a quiet click.
“You just gotta love ‘em,” Kehoe says at the end of the 36-second clip.
According to Kehoe’s LinkedIn profile, she’s lived in close proximity to black bears for over 30 years. She says that over that time, she has come to understand the bears’ ways and mannerisms. Which sounds remarkably similar to the perspective that Timothy Treadwell had regarding the wild brown bears he “befriended” in Katmai National Park. Treadwell and his girlfriend were both killed by one of those bears in October 2003.
“Through the years, she has been accepted by the black bear as part of their clan,” Kehoe’s profile reads. “She is able to walk with them in the woods and study their behavior.”
This unusual relationship has led Kehoe to write multiple books about black bears, including The Adventures of Two Black Bear Cubs. It has also inspired some activism and borderline criminal behavior on her part. She was sued in 2017 by two hunters who claimed that she harassed them online, and she was cited in 2012 for intentionally feeding bears outside her home. In 2010, Kehoe was found guilty of resisting arrest and hindering the lawful taking of wildlife after she interfered with state wildlife biologists who were in the process of tranquilizing a bear and changing its radio collar.