Home Back Forward July 18, 1999: When Do I Fear Grizzly Bears?

Brandy spots our cubs

"Trust" - portrait of Biscuit

Trip to the biffy

(Click on any Image to see a higher resolution version)


For an interesting perspective on the history of man's fear of bears, read this.
I grew up terrified of bears. I no longer feel that way as I have learned that bears do not want to hurt humans. I have come a long way in determining what is real for me to be afraid of and what comes from the mythology.

I still feel fear at times. For example, when I think about encountering a grizzly bear unexpectedly that I have not met before, I feel fear. The thought of this kind of encounter causes me more fear in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta than it does here at Kambalnoe Lake. I think our bears in North America have, for the most part, encountered humans more than one time in their life and the experience has not always been pleasant. They may have been shot at - who knows. I realize now that bears have incredible memories and perhaps those bears who have had negative experiences with man, carry a real grudge for humans and are potentially dangerous. I know not to run away: bears love to chase something out of their territory. I know to stand my ground in a relaxed way, get out my Counter Assault bear spray from my hip holster, and talk to the animal in a reassuring way.

Charlie continues to test my reflexes, for these kinds of encounters, by once or twice a year hiding in a dense pine bush and growling at me as I walk by. This little game is terrifying for me, but it has trained me not to panic and to assess the situation. The first week we were here this year, we ran into a mother and a 3-year-old cub about a 100 yards up a snowdrift from us. I was photographing the pair when she took a run at us. I could see that she had established limits for any critter in her vicinity - she may have been coming into estrous or had been harassed by the predatory male that we knew to be in Kambalnoe Lake region this spring. I didn't know for sure, but she didn't look rally "pissed off", just the look of "move off!". I felt alert (not afraid) and got out my bear spray while Charlie talked to her, saying we were OK and were on our way anyway. She slid to a stop (I have a picture of it[Sadly, not a digital picture. It's on film])! This is the only time any bear has run at us in the 4 seasons we have been here.

The mother of the Cocktail family is very apprehensive about other bears approaching her this year. One of her cubs was killed this spring. In the photo you will see the intent look on her face as she spots our cubs across the meadow. She ran at our cubs just enough to move them away shortly after this picture was taken.

I feel a degree of fear when I imagine that the predatory bear that has been in here may have developed such a taste for fresh meat that I may become a target. In this case I think my imagination is getting the best of me. I have read that the odd bear that becomes a cattle killer doesn't turn on humans for the next carnivore's snack. Therefore I reason, why should a bear that likes eating other bears turn on me? I rationalize that I am likely as OK as I was in other years but that I should stay very alert, which I am doing.

I am certain we have done nothing with our camp etiquette to encourage human predation such as leaving any access to human food or feces. The solar powered electric fence around our camp continues to keep bears out of our compost, we wash all cans so no food smell is wafting from our garbage bags that are stacked up for the next helicopter trip out. Our minimal electric fencing experiment around the toilet continues to keep bears out of it. We heard a loud woof in the middle of the night a week ago as a bear tried to approach the toilet, pulled out the wire and obviously received a shock. See picture, taken early one morning, titled, "Trip to the biffy". I am stepping over an electric wire only 6" off the ground. We are experimenting with the minimum amount of wire that is necessary to string around a camp. I still imagine with a bit of grin what it would be like to sit there with a bear looking over that six inches of electric wire.

I trust grizzly bears that I have been around and studied their behavior over an extended period of time. I trust our cubs. In the drawing titled, "Trust", I am sitting a few feet from Biscuit. She obviously trusts me as much as I trust her to sleep so peacefully with me so close to her. I do not believe she will ever become aggressive towards me, as she clearly likes me. I am careful not to startle her unexpectedly, though, as this would scare her. She has stood on her hind legs in front of me to see if I will play. I am more startled than afraid and she notices that. She seems to be taking great care now to not startle me, as I believe her to be as interested in our friendship as I am.

Do these bears know our voice? This little episode blew my mind! Talk about sensitivity with these animals: Charlie was high on the bluff above Bearskull Bay near Chico while she was asleep in a bear bed. He called camp on the radiophone. He told me that when I spoke, Chico woke up. As I continued talking, she stood up, looked down the cliff wall and along the bay to see where I was. She then looked at Charlie with quite a puzzled look on her face.


© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999