Betty the blind black bear gains celebrity status on military base

A blind black bear named Betty is drawing attention of many at an Alaskan military base.
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 1:43 PM CDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) - A female black bear is attracting a crowd wherever she goes in an Alaska military base to the point where she’s on a first-name basis with the military community that she routinely sees on the base.

Betty is an imposing figure weighing in at around 250 pounds who has become Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s neighborhood blind black bear.

Because she lacks sight, Betty often pops up in public areas where lots of people can see and interact with her, such as beneath a playground slide or on someone’s front doorstep.

James Wendland, chief officer with the JBER Conservation Law Enforcement Office, said Betty is like a celebrity on the base.

“Everybody that knows of her wants to take a look and see her and get good pictures,” he said.

KTUU reports that bears are a popular sight on base. Wendland said his team often handles one or two situations involving bears a day. However, he said they always know when the bear is Betty.

“She kind of feels her way around,” Wendland said. “But the big thing is, if she is going over something, she will always turn around and come over backward to where she can put her feet down first. Doesn’t matter if it’s a jersey barrier or by a dumpster. So it’s very easy for us to identify her by just her movements.”

Wendland first noticed Betty in 2018 walking around the base with her two cubs. That’s when he saw she was starting to lose her eyesight.

Over the past half a decade, his team has worked to help keep her safe on base.

“We have to deal with her totally different than any other bear because she can’t see,” Wendland said. “So, we have to get others to help us. Primarily to make sure we have traffic stopped so we don’t have her get hit by a car or have a car accident. We also have to be real careful about where we let her sleep for the day.”

It’s anyone’s guess where Betty will end up each day, having to rely mostly on her hearing to navigate the base.

“(When) she’s not hearing a lot people around her, that’s where she will lay down for the day and she will just take a nap right out in the open,” Wendland said.

Wendland warns that residents should still give her space when she makes a guest appearance.

“Don’t get too close. It’s still not the neighborhood dog that you can go up and get a selfie with. They are still bears. Give them plenty of room, plenty of space,” Wendland said.