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Upstate NY man plays around with 1,500 pound bear

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 7:35
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Anything and everything anytime

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After a video was posted to Facebook that showed a man attempting to cuddle with a Kodiak bear, over 11 million people had a logical response: Click.

Presumably, because human-bear encounters are not known for ending well, these millions of viewers wanted to see what happened next. Whatever they were expecting, it was probably not a love fest between 59-year-old Jim Kowalczik and a 22-year-old bear that Mr. Kowalczik raised from an injured cub into a 1,500-pound, 9-foot-tall pet.

In the video, the bear, named Jimbo, licks Mr. Kowalczik’s face while giving him a literal bear hug. Mr. Kowalczik reciprocates with a loving back rub. As you do.

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This video and several others were posted by the Orphaned Wildlife Center, a rehabilitation center in Otisville, N.Y., that Mr. Kowalczik, a retired corrections officer, and his wife, Susan, 57, formally started as a nonprofit in 2015. The footage posted by the group provides a rare and intimate glimpse at an animal that is best viewed at a distance.

Jimbo, also called Jimmy, is one of 11 bears that live at the 100-acre facility about two hours north of New York City. Jimbo and the others were brought in as cubs suffering from injuries that rendered them unable to survive in the wild, Kerry Clair, a director for Orphaned Wildlife, said in an interview on Tuesday. Along with bears, the group rehabilitates horses, deer and squirrels. But this is not a zoo: Since the main goal is to rehabilitate the animals, the public can’t visit, Ms. Clair said.

“Our primary purpose is to release these animals into the wild,” Ms. Clair said. “We only keep them if there’s some problem.”

The bears that remain on the grounds are as friendly as Jimbo, she said, because they were raised by humans from an early age. The downside is that once they become close to humans, they cannot return to the wild.

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In many ways, the scene at Orphaned Wildlife goes against nature. First of all, it is a rare communal living situation for an animal that normally travels alone. The males and females are separated, but the members of the group, comprising Kodiak bears, brown bears, Syrian brown bears and a black bear named Frankie, all roam near one another.

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