In the eastern region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, rescued North American Black Bears roam their natural habitat and live the good life at Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Jean Oswald began raising bears in 1984. He and his wife, Jewel, opened the rescue refuge to the public in 1997 with only a few bears. They figured if they could get 5 or 6 cars a day to visit, it would help with the costs of feeding and caring for the animals. They did not expect to grow every year and eventually have thousands of visitors each summer!
“We have 41 bears now. Two of them are cubs,” Jewel Oswald told me.
North American Black Bear cubs are born in January. If the Oswald’s rescue cubs in late winter, they’re usually only 2–3 pounds, so they keep them in their living room until April 1st. They are bottle fed, loved, and pampered. Then, they acclimate the cubs to the weather, slowly getting them used to the outdoors.
It’s important the young cubs are kept apart, otherwise an adult bear would kill them. The following spring, they go to the habitat designated for one- and two-year-olds. There, they can frolic with the other youngsters around the pond and beneath the waterfall. When they turn three, the males and females are separated and moved to one of two large habitats. Adult males and females must be kept separate because the State of Michigan does not allow breeding large carnivores, except in zoos.
“Most of our cubs come from the DNR,” Jewel explained. “The mother may have been hit by a car or shot. A couple years ago there was an incident in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. A sow that was used to being fed by humans charged some hikers. She had to be shot. Her two babies came to us. Their names are Teton and Wyoming and they’re doing just great now!”
The Oswald’s have taken in bears from all over the country from states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Arizona. Once a bear arrives to Oswald’s Bear Ranch, they stay there the rest of their lives. The life expectancy of one of Oswald’s black bears is about 25 years.
“We prefer to get them when they are cubs, so we can get to know their personality. A few years ago, we took in six adults from Ohio, but we don’t get too close to them because we don’t know how they’ll react.” Jewel said.
The Newberry community is involved with Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Every year, there is a contest for kids to name the new cubs. School bus tours are free. Tons of bear food, like corn and granola, are purchased locally. Supermarkets and restaurants regularly donate their older fruits and vegetables — sometimes even meat.
The Oswald’s offer a chance for individuals or groups to get a picture taken while feeding and petting a bear cub. For $10, several pictures will be taken with your own camera. This unique experience is a memorable one for children and adults alike!
The Bear Ranch isn’t a drive-thru, it’s a walk about. Carts are available for elderly and ADA visitors. There are large photo platforms available, giving guests a great view of the bears. You may want to schedule your visit around the 4 PM feeding time!
Oswald’s Bear Ranch is located at 13814 Co Rd 407, Newberry, Michigan. Be sure to check their website for hours and pricing.
If you’ve visited the Bear Ranch, tell me about your experience in the comments!