photograph by Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

It’s an old story: the bond between a man and his animal. For Hugh Morton, the wildlife photographer and conservationist who owned Grandfather Mountain, it didn’t matter that his animal was a fully grown black bear.

As gentle as could be from being raised and bottle-fed by humans at the Atlanta zoo, Mildred the Bear was the unofficial mascot of Grandfather Mountain for 25 years, brought there to help increase western North Carolina’s black bear population. Mildred and Morton became fast friends, going on nature walks and picnics together and eating one of Mildred’s favorite snacks: Fig Newtons with orange soda.

Known as “the bear who didn’t know she was a bear,” Mildred loved people, to the point of causing a little chaos at times. Her first day at Grandfather Mountain in 1968 was full of stops at the snack bar, getting chased by dogs, and unintentionally terrorizing golfers on the green.

When she wasn’t hamming it up for the camera with visitors, Mildred tended to her motherly duties, caring for nine cubs and adopting three others. Through it all, she and Morton remained close pals, companions who knew well the deep comfort of friendship.

This story was published on

Caroline Kelly is an editorial assistant at J&J Editorial in Cary. She was a spring 2018 editorial intern.

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