Today I welcome Karen Ho Fatt with a cautionary tale on bear safety. Karen is a native of Bragg Creek and I am always happy to discover other local writers.
Bears: Don’t Put Yourself and Your Loved Ones at Risk
If a thousand pound bear is glaring over you with jaws bigger than your head, our instincts kick in and we immediately tell ourselves, “RUN!” If you ever see a bear, never panic or run. Remember, a bear is stronger and faster than you, and much like a dog seeing another dog run, their instincts are to chase.
I’ve never understood exactly why, but some people get a little too comfortable in the wild. I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast, but I never forget my surroundings. Even if you are camping in a designated campground, wild animals will and do roam around you.
About two years ago, my family and I traveled to a day campground in Kananaskis, Alberta. As we arrived, we noticed a group of young adults in an island cul-de-sac taking photos. Since I’m a photographer myself, I was curious what was drawing in so much attention. We parked our vehicle near the group and discovered they were taking photographs of a black bear off in the distance.
The bear was far away and didn’t seem to notice the group of on-lookers. The spectacle seemed harmless enough until one young man decided to approach the bear. I can only assume he wanted to get a closer photograph of the bear, which was a dangerous choice. If you ever see a bear, keep your distance and never approach one for any reason.
The Government of Alberta, Alberta BearSmart Program advises that there are two main ways people can prevent bear encounters: “avoid surprising a bear; and take precautions so bears are not attracted to a camp or work area.”
If you ever encounter a bear, Alberta BearSmart Program recommends you:
• Remain calm and slowly walk away from the bear. Talk calmly to the bear so he can identify you as a human. If possible, also walk up wind so the bear can easily identify your scent.
• Carry bear spray while camping.
• Never approach a bear. This can scare a bear and trigger an attack.
• Try to warn companions without shouting. Only use calm voices.
• If the bear is very close, never stare into the bear’s eyes. Directly staring may make a harmless bear become aggressive.
• If you cannot safely back away, you can climb a tree. If you do, climb high and as fast as possible. Note: Grizzly bears and black bears can climb trees, so this does not guarantee safety.
On this particular day, the young man crept slowly toward the bear, startling it. The bear immediately darted at the man and the man and everyone else began screaming hysterically, running and jumping into vehicles. My heart was racing and the young man didn’t make it to a vehicle in time. Luckily for him, the bear had bluff charged. This means the bear began to charge the man, but stopped in his tracks. This behavior is common among bears.
Instead of being grateful the bear stopped, the young man decided he should taunt the bear, as if a close bear encounter and near attack wasn’t enough. My family and I watched from within our vehicle. I was frozen with my eyes glued to the young man as he decided to call out to the bear and throw shish kebabs at him. As the bear came into the cul-de-sac to get the food, my husband drove our car into the middle of the scene to block the young man from the bear.
To the young man, this was still fun and games and I don’t think he realized he could have been next on the bear’s list to devour. Now having had a taste for human food, the bear darted into a neighboring campsite where a family was preparing lunch on their gas campfire. The family quickly dispersed and the bear gobbled up everything in sight.
Fish and Wildlife were called to the scene, but the bear had already vanished. Even through this ordeal my family and I still enjoyed our time at the campgrounds, but my heart sunk a few days later. We learned this same black bear became conditioned to associate food with humans and went from never approaching campgrounds to bombarding them and smashing in cars for food. Although the bear never attacked any humans, Fish and Wildlife determined the bear was now posing a threat to humans and captured and killed the bear.
As Jim Fowler once said,
“The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans.”
Please remember to never feed bears or any other wild animals. You aren’t doing them any favors; in fact, you are doing the opposite. You are endangering their lives and the lives of you and your loved ones. Be safe in the wild.
Karen is an avid camper and photographer. On all of Karen’s trips, she always brings a gas campfire. If she is not out in the woods, you can find her and the family sitting by a large fire ring since camping without a fire in the backwoods or at home just isn’t as enjoyable. Karen is the author of the website, The Family Fire Pit.