She’s there for the bears
Ann Bryant never leaves home without her cell phone ” and her porcupine. To go without either would be against Bryant’s inherent nature to serve and protect.
As co-founder and executive director of the 10-year-old BEAR League, Bryant is on call 24/7 in the event that a Tahoe Basin resident phones in with an animal emergency. At that time Bryant will jump into her Land Cruiser and race to aid.
One such emergency six years ago involved a tiny porcupine that had been badly hurt on the road. After reviving the critter and amputating his broken tail, Bryant nursed the porcupine, whom she named Marvin, back to health.
“When he woke up, somehow he just knew that we were friends,” Bryant recalls.
Since then, the two have been inseparable.
But the battered porc hasn’t been the only one saved by Bryant’s care. Since childhood the 53-year-old woman has been bringing forest animals home. Birds, mice, opossum, deer, squirrels, beaver ” you name it, Bryant has bandaged it, fed it, loved it, and ” most often ” released it.
“I relate well with animals. I can hear what they are saying. And I think animals need a spokesperson because what they have to say is very profound,” Bryant says. “They deserve our respect.”
That philosophy is what has made Bryant so successful in her quest to protect wildlife and inform others about environmental awareness. But run-ins with the law and an eccentric personality have driven some people to label her as strange or even fanatical. But those labels are inaccurate, say those who know Bryant.
“She’s not a fanatic, and she’s not crazy. She is trying to teach people to coexist with animals. And because of her passion and knowledge, people seem to think that she is a radical,” says Cheryl Millham, the executive director of Tahoe Wildlife Care and a longtime friend of Bryant. “She is rational and intelligent ” a normal person who is just trying to make a difference.”
And while changing human behavior and protecting the local bear population is on the top of Bryant’s to-do list, she says she holds no grandiose ideas of the size of her impact.
“You can’t save them all, but for the ones that cross your path, you can make a difference, and you have to. I have to,” she says.
Bryant’s animal involvement began nearly a decade ago in tragedy. She says a person vacationing at Tahoe called the California Department of Fish and Game to have a locally loved bear sow and her cubs destroyed.
The act so infuriated Bryant and other locals that action was taken and the Bear Preservation League was formed.
It was a move Bryant supported but hadn’t bargained for. For her entire adult life Bryant had lived in seclusion as an agoraphobe.
“I was very reclusive at the time. I didn’t go to the grocery store, I had other people do my shopping for me,” she says. “But after [those bears] were killed people started calling me because my name was in the paper, saying that I had to do something. The BEAR league was formed, and I was forced to overcome that.”
And she has, with surprising success. Bryant now speaks publicly, giving lectures to thousands of classrooms, wildlife professionals, and curious citizens around the lake and across the country.
“She has had to come out as a front-line fighter, and she is good at it because she is passionate,” Millham says. “When someone knows a subject as well as she does, it’s easy to talk about it. She didn’t learn from a book or from a teacher ” she lives it.”
In her Homewood residence of 20 years, Bryant lives with Marvin and seven injured squirrels. Over the years she has cared for countless others. And she has been doing it all without pay.
As a full-time volunteer, Bryant has no time for other work. But her home and car are paid for, and the league helps her pay for gas. The last time she had a “real” job was decades ago.
“I consider this my job, I just don’t get a paycheck. But that’s not all that matters,” she says. “I love this planet too much to just sit back.”
Now sitting is rarely an option, as Bryant frequently answers more than 20 phone calls before lunch. She has more than 900 members to keep track of, as well as more than 150 volunteers that she has trained to respond to bear calls. She can’t remember the last time she had a vacation.
She says she hopes to go back into seclusion someday, perhaps in the south of France, but at this point it’s just not feasible. Bryant maintains that she would never abandon her organization, at least not until someone else steps up to the challenge of holding it all together.
Until then, Bryant and the BEAR League will be working hard to get garbage ordinances enforced, and to expand their lecture program.
“We have to educate and make a turn to where we are the majority, and our way of thinking is normal ” when being an animal rights activist is a good thing,” she says. “How can you save the children but not the world they’re going to live in? It doesn’t make sense.”