It’s five years since the Asheville Citizen-Times ran the memorable headline: “Bear trapped in car busts out window, enters kitchen, eats muffin mix, skedaddles”. Since then, residents of the North Carolina city – population 94,500 – have become ever more used to living with black bears in their midst. There are up to 6,000 bears in the western part of North Carolina and as their natural woodland habitat is encroached upon by housing, some have adopted more urban ways of life.
The photographer Corey Arnold took this picture with a fixed camera at the back of a house where the family used to see young bears share their kids’ rope swing. The picture is part of Arnold’s series Cities Gone Wild, shortlisted for a Sony world photography award. The series focuses on the obverse of the usual narrative of animal habitats destroyed by human activity, looking at those species that have adapted well to city living. A recent study of Asheville’s younger bears found that they were twice as heavy and produced their first cubs two years before their rural cousins, a result of the high-calorie diet they had learned to forage from rubbish bins.
Attacks on humans are rare and Asheville citizens are mostly “bearwise”: not putting bird feeders out – bears love nuts – and cleaning up after barbecues and picnics. The notable instances of bears entering cars or kitchens in Asheville can usually be traced to a resident habitually feeding the animals, which makes them more defensive and territorial in a particular area. The headline-making Citizen-Times bear was inadvertently trapped in a van after a woman left its doors unlocked. Once released it wandered into a neighbor’s kitchen and found the muffin mix in a drawer. Some of Asheville’s bears, a conservationist inevitably noted at the time, “are smarter than the average bear”.
Corey Arnold’s Cities Gone Wild series is shortlisted in the Sony world photography awards 2023. An exhibition of the photographs is at Somerset House, London, 14 April-1 May