Dreams come true in South Lake Tahoe, or at least they did for 5-year-old Sean Callahan when he met his superhero in person and held a bear cub in his lap.
For Sean, neither Superman nor Spiderman can hold a candle to Carl Lackey, a biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. And last Wednesday, Sean got an up-close view of the work his hero does in South Lake Tahoe trapping and tagging bears.
Sean's Lackey-worship started two years ago when he watched The Animal Extractors, a National Geographic television program about preserving the balance between man and wildlife. According to his father, Pat Callahan, Sean watched the episode featuring Lackey over and over again for months. For Halloween, while other students were dressed up as Spiderman and superman, he showed up as Carl Lackey.
One year, Callahan decided to meet up with Lackey in person on a family vacation to Tahoe from their hometown in Colorado.
"It occurred to me that Lake Tahoe, that's where this guy catches the bears," Callahan said.
Although Sean and his father had met Lackey last year on a previous family vacation, Wednesday was the first time they got to see - and touch - the animals. The Nevada Department of Wildlife trapped a female bear and her 5-month-old male cub in Tahoe Village, and Lackey was there to tag the young bear. The mother had been tagged last year.
"We tag them so we can I.D. them. It gives us good information on dispersal and on chronic nuisance bears," Lackey said.
Lackey's tracked bears all the way up to Oregon, and around the Lake Tahoe Basin. Tagging is the main reason why the Nevada Department of Wildlife traps the bears in the first place, Lackey said. It's an important way to keep track of the bears and make sure one isn't regularly raiding dumpsters.
So far, Lackey has already trapped more than a dozen bears and he expects the season to get busier as the area continues to dry out.
On Wednesday, Lackey sedated the trapped bears in a Tahoe Village parking lot above the Kingsbury Grade Road. Once the bears had passed out, the crew lifted the limp cub onto the trailer where he got a brand new, No. 10 ear tag, a small tattoo on the inside of his lip and a microchip inserted in his neck. The microchip and tattoo serve as idetification backup in case the yellow ear tag falls off, Lackey said. The crew also extracted hair and blood for a DNA sample.
Throughout the process, Sean learned first-hand about the bears and the tagging process. At the end, he got to hold the cub in his lap with the mother sedated just inches away.
"It's cool. He's a cool kid who's beyond his years in knowledge. You educate these kids, you show them this stuff when they're young and they learn the difference. These are wild animals, and he knows that," Lackey said.
Sean's favorite part was posing for the cameras with the cub.
"It was cool. He was really heavy. Not for my legs but for my hands," Sean said afterward.
The two bears were released on Thursday in the same area where they were trapped.