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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 18, 2011

The Halls teach their performing bears to ride bikes and shoot basketballs

By Anne Hayden

ALTAMONT — From Syria to Texas to Altamont, brown bears steal the show.

Tepa and James Hall raise their bears from cubs on the Texas property they call home, teaching them tricks and skills from a young age.

The larger bears, Tepa points out during the Bear Mountain Wildlife Show at the fair, are lighter in color, because they’re from Syria, a desert environment, and their coats are shaded to blend with the sand.

The bears, which can grow to a height of 9 feet tall and a weight of 1,000 pounds, are born weighing a mere seven ounces, which is roughly the same size as a Beanie Baby stuffed animal.

But, unlike the bears that live out their lives in Syria, the Halls’ bears know how to ride a bike, shoot a basketball through a hoop, jump over hurdles, roll on a barrel or a beach ball, and dance. They can also walk on their hind legs, or perform a handstand.

At the fair, they do all of those things and more for the crowd, to a background of lively music with an informational monologue from Tepa Hall. Her husband puts them through their paces and rewards them with treats. Both of the Halls dress in the red jackets and black trousers of the Canadian Mounties.

Teaching a bear to ride a bike is very similar to teaching a child to ride a bike, Tepa Hall explained — just show them how to pedal and hold them upright until they learn to balance. Once a bear learns a new skill, she said, the bear will remember it forever.

During training, the bears’ behavior is reinforced with treats.

“After pounds and pounds of treats, you’ve got a bear that can ride a bike!” Tepa Hall told the audience in the grandstand at the fair on opening day.

The Bear Mountain Wildlife Show will be performed three times a day in front of the bleachers; the times vary by day, so check the fair schedule.

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