ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bear No. 56 really knows how to get around.
And her travels have earned her a rap sheet that New Mexico wildlife officials say is “as long as her arm.”
But after a troubled youth in the foothills east of Albuquerque, the bear appears to have retired to the quiet shores of Lake Navajo. State wildlife officials say the infamous bear also is the Mama Bear who gained popularity here this summer after a fisherman’s photograph of her ferrying her cub across the mile-wide lake was picked up by area newspapers and television stations.
The bear’s true identity — and troubled past — were revealed this week in the fall issue of New Mexico Wildlife. She was identified by a photo that captured the green tag in her ear.
Bear No. 56 grew up in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, turning to trouble in 2002. That’s the year she was picked up at least four times for raiding trash cans, chicken coops — and sometimes houses — in the small mountain community of Tijeras. She first was tagged as Bear No. 770 but she lost that tag, along with a piece of her ear, early on.
On her fourth recorded encounter with the law, Bear No. 56 was chased up a tree and tranquilized. After that, officers decided to relocate her to the Zuni Mountains, about 100 miles to the west.
That was the last anyone heard of the bear until Aug. 4, when Mark Meier, a retiree from Arboles, Colo., spotted her swimming across northwest New Mexico’s Navajo Lake with her cub on her back.
“This bear has really gotten around,” said Rick Winslow, the state wildlife department’s large carnivore biologist. “Our records show she was caught and relocated at least four, and likely five times.”
The amount of territory she has covered on her own also is remarkable, Winslow said. The lake is about 150 miles from where she was last dropped off.
Perhaps even more extraordinary, Winslow says, it that Bear No. 56 was never euthanized after becoming so habituated to humans and causing so much trouble in the summer of 2002. Problem bears are usually put down after three strikes.
“There have been bears that we’ve relocated numerous times — for various reasons,” he said. “This definitely is one well-traveled — and lucky — bear.”