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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Following the bear
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine

A bear has been caught cooling off in a suburban swimming pool in California, one of a growing number of wild creatures exploring the urban heartland.

The way her paw gently rests on the side of the pool, her claws, like human fingers, just sitting on the terracotta edging tiles, her gaze distracted by something in the distance... For an uninvited guest, this 10-stone wild black bear looks remarkably at ease as she takes a dip in a backyard on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

She had ambled into the garden shortly after 6pm, bumping into doors and windows before eyeing the shimmering expanse of cool water and jumping in.

But while the bear appeared to take things in her stride, mother Maryam Salahael sprang into action, fishing her children out of the water before calling the authorities for help.

The furry intruder was swiftly tranquilised and carted off, to be released in nearby mountains.

Of all the wild animals to plonk itself in a human setting, the bear appears to be most at home, thanks in large part, to our tendency to anthropomorphise the creature. Rupert, Yogi, Pooh, Sooty, Paddington, Fozzie, and, of course, everyone's starting point, teddy... through the prism of human sentimentality, bears have become part of the family.

Fast food

Reports of wild bears stumbling into America's tranquil suburbs, sometimes wreaking havoc in rubbish bins and even fridges, have grown increasingly common in recent years. Sighting of wild cats and mountain lions have also increased and even the odd jaguar has been known to slink across the Mexican border.

Paddington and Ken Livingstone
Urban to the core - Paddington and Ken Livingstone
Britain is no different, although species of wild animal spotted scurrying along the pavements in the wee hours are neither as exotic as those in the US nor, thankfully, as threatening.

Urban foxes are among the most marked. Between 30-35,000 of Britain's total fox population of 240,000 are thought to be town-based.

Grey squirrels, badgers, even some deer species are starting to head for the bright lights.

Theories abound as to what's causing this potentially worrying influx - worrying because wild animals tend not to live up to their cute and cuddly image.

Some blame the profusion of fast food outlets, their half eaten meals, scattered around streets, are easy pickings for such animals, as they are for dogs and birds.

One common theory, which is backed by an expert at Bristol University, is that wild animals are not so much encroaching on us, as we on them. The seemingly inexorable urban sprawl is beginning to eat into foxes' natural habitat, suggests Phil Baker, of Bristol's Mammal Research Unit.

Alternatively, it could all be down to the perennial popularity of picnic baskets and marmalade sandwiches.

Watch the wild bear take a dip in an LA swimming pool


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