Tara also is home to small but growing numbers of Louisiana black bears-a rare subspecies native to the lower Mississippi River Valley. Historically, the region boasted the highest population density of black bears in North America. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt traveled to the region, where, along with local planters, he hunted bears in the river bottoms just north of Tara. After several days of fruitless hunting, the hounds finally treed a bear cub, which the guides captured and tied to a tree.
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The President's hosts suggested that he shoot the young bear so he wouldn't have to return to Washington empty-handed. Roosevelt, being a true sportsman, angrily refused. The incident, which was immortalized in a famous Washington Post cartoon, gave rise to the ever popular children's toy, the Teddy Bear. In 2001, more than 40 bear sightings were recorded at Tara, and wildlife biologists are optimistic that a viable breeding population may soon become reestablished in the area.
After our hunt, I have the pleasure of speaking with Tara's founder, Maggie Bryant, in the lodge. A long-standing board member and former chairman of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, she is among the nation's most influential and committed conservationists. She also lends considerable support to many international conservation initiatives, including efforts to preserve South American rainforests and to restore elephants and other wildlife in tribal areas of Africa. In recognition of her immense contribution to wildlife and the environment, she has been awarded the prestigious Chevron Conservation Award and, from Mississippi, the Governor's Award for Conservation.
"My interest in conservation began here after my husband died," Bryant recalls. "We had this property that had been in the family for 200 years. We didn't want to sell it, but needed to find ways for the land to pay for itself. That's how we started Tara, and everything evolved from that point forward."