When Sarah Fairbanks of Hastings was asked to participate in a research project headed by her daughter, Oklahoma State University assistant professor Sue Fairbanks, she couldn't bear to say no.
The project called for cuddling wild American black bear cubs being monitored in the Ozark Mountains in Oklahoma earlier this month while the cubs' mother was tranquilized and re-collared for tracking purposes. A privilege usually reserved for the locals on whose property the bears reside, Sarah was invited to participate because of the limited number of available volunteers in the remote region where the bears were found.
Also included in the cuddling phase of the project were Sue and her daughter, Katie, 11. Sarah spent about half a day in the field during the five-to-six-week den check enterprise. During her stint, two tiny cubs — named Bonnie and Clyde by the locals —were placed in her care to keep warm for about 30 minutes while Sue changed out the tracking collar of their mother.
Nuzzling the furry critters under her coat, she wasted little time bonding with the days-old cubs.
"It was fantastic, an experience of a lifetime," Sarah said. "They just felt like little newborn puppies. Not many people get to snuggle a baby bear, so I was really fortunate."