As we drove home after a Monday evening journey past the city limits, I was surprised to see some geese already have a family, hatched and half grown. There were cranes in some fields, migrating snow geese in others and swans rested in at least two of the sloughs we passed. We watched a fox jumping on the ground as he hunted and two coyotes watched us watching them when we stopped to admire them. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was viewing three black bears within a span of about sixty kilometres.
I love bears. Perhaps my passion for them began as a little girl when I associated the bears we saw at the dump, and in our yard on occasion, with the bears featured in the story of Goldilocks and the Three bears. Those bears had an ideal existence; a nice home, quality family time with both parents, a comfortable place to sleep and good, stick-to-the-ribs food. What’s not to love?
As we stopped to observe one bear who hovered at the safety of the treeline, I zoomed in as close as I could with my camera phone. My window was open and I was aware that my twins were clamouring for a better look at their first bear citing, while our little Chihuahua growled as menacingly as she is capable of, trying to protect her family. Her paw wrapped around my wrist as her low growl seemed to say “hold me back!”when, in reality, her body language clearly indicated she meant, “don’t let me go!!!” We quickly placed her between two adults in the front seat and she calmed down enough she curled up to go to sleep. Maybe she wasn’t growling at the bear at all - perhaps she was just overtired. And her sleeping allowed me to focus on the bear and give it my undivided attention.
First, I am in awe of any animal I can observe in its natural environment and I’m reminded how we both share common areas. And secondly, I enjoy watching nature when our boundaries are set and respected. When my family and I visit an area, we leave it tidier than we found it. We don’t feed the animals, thereby allowing it to associate people with food. And we don’t ever get too close tempting the animal to consider us a threat or prey. Watching this bear become curious about us and approach our vehicle, and the highway with busy traffic rushing past us on both sides of the freeway, I quickly felt a sense of disappointment... someone had already taught this animal not to fear humans.
This had happened to a bear when I was about eight years old, while we still lived at Candle Lake. He was stealing food from the local restaurant, helping himself to the contents of the deepfreezes outside the kitchen on the back patio. Often times people woke up to find the refuse from their closed garbage containers scattered across the front yard and it wasn’t uncommon to step outside and see him sitting in the middle of someone’s garden, eating his fill of raspberries, strawberries and anything else his palette led him to harvest. After being relocated several times, the Conservation Officer had no choice but to permanently remove him from our neighbourhood. It took four men to lift the bear into the Officer’s truck and they had to fold his body over so that the tailgate could be closed. He was a big, mighty bear whose only fault in life was the threat he posed to the safety of humans. The same humans who forgot to observe their boundaries and crossed the line from observer of wildlife to food source for wildlife. Whether it’s to get a closer look at an animal, bring it closer to ones vehicle to take photographs or, stupidly, to reach out and “pet” a wild animal, humans really do impact wildlife both positively, and often times negatively, as they interact with the species living in their environment.
As we watched the bear approach our vehicle I saw he wasn’t scared or intimidated by us. All of us were really calm and no one reached outside the windows, beckoning him towards us. One finger rested on the button, ready to close the window and we sat far back in our seats to avoid having the bear’s attention drawn to something inside and have him reach out, curious to explore and potentially one of us being hurt. His visit lasted only a few minutes and then he carried on his way and we continued on with our day too. It was quite wonderful to have spent those few minutes together and I was happy both of us left the encounter unscathed.
It’s been a couple of days since we saw the bears but last night I thought of him again. We returned to Prince Albert from Melfort, where’d we had been shopping for plants. As we left one particular community, the driver of our vehicle turned sharply into the opposite driving lane and slammed onto the brake. The reality was if she hadn’t saw what she had, and reacted to what she’d seen, there would have been an accident and at least one death involved. Instead we were all shaken up, bewildered and more alert than we were moments before. Like the animals who need to retain a healthy fear of humans for their own safety, humans need to be mindful of the space they share with one another as well. I’m still not sure what the person was thinking when they chose to dress in black from head to toe, with no reflector tape on their torso at all... and then they proceeded to sit in the parking lane, on the yellow line of the highway. My stomach still wants to be sick when I consider how close we came to hitting someone with our vehicle last night.
The thought occurs to me when we are mindful of the natural laws that bind and safeguard us, wild and domesticated animals can co-habitate in the same environment and ecosystems, without putting one another at risk. There are plenty of animals hunting at night, being outside without reflective gear or lights can lead to us being a target of prey rather than someone to avoid. It is up to us the level of risk we’d like to put ourselves through. Mostly, to be safe, it means practicing common sense and being mindful of who is sharing our environment with us.
As the weather continues to warm up and the days become longer, Please remember wild animals will be more aggressive with their young ones out and about foraging with them. Be careful when hiking, berry picking, harvesting fish and being any place a wild animal might be. Carry a whistle and wear it around your neck to blow during a case of emergency, wear reflective tape and use a flashlight to scan your path and avoid potential wildlife encounters. Above all else...
Stay safe and have a great week, everyone.