Black Bears and Darwin: When Sightseers in the Canadian Wilderness Make Wrong Choices

1297310776097_ORIGINALThis Peterborough Examiner article by my friend Sarah Deeth made me shake my head.

“An Oshawa family drove up to Trent Lakes Wednesday to go sightseeing at the dump and take in some of the local bear-scavenging action when their van battery died at 11:30 p.m., Peterborough County OPP said.

Adding to their growing concern was the fact that several of the bears roaming the waste site wandered over to the van and were standing around the vehicle staring in at the passengers, police said.”

It also conjured up memories of other tourists doing stupid things around wildlife

* * *

I remember, years ago, coming across a woman waving a piece of bologna at an approaching black bear at a dump in the Algonquin Park area.

“Here, bear!” she cooed “Here, bear!”

Not wanting to be anywhere near the confrontation between a bear and naive tourist, I called over to her: “That might not be the best idea.”

She pulled out a pamphlet and shook it at me. “But I’ve just read that black bears don’t attack humans.”

Knowing that pamphlets outweigh shaggy 20-somethings by a large margin in the minds of sight-seers, I decided to take a different approach.

“Ah, but do black bears eat bologna?” I yelled.

“I bet they do!” she shouted back.

“Right!” I replied. “Now just imagine that, for a bear, there is a pretty big grey zone between that bologna and, say… your arm.”

She paused. Looked quizzical. Then concerned.

“Good luck with that!” I urged.

She dropped the cold meat, looked soberly at the approaching bear and, from the expression on her face, seemed to re-evaluate her place in the “nature” that was a backwoods forest dump.

Then, just as the pamphlet advised, she stood erect and slowly backed away, talking sweetly.

“It’s OK, Mr. Bear… I was just leaving, Mr. Bear…”

* * *

Remind me to tell you the story about the tourist and the Banff elk. Or that other story about tourist and the Banff elk. Or that other story about the tourist and the Banff elk.

Really, I can’t count the number of times I’ve prevented people from doing stupid things around animals.  When you spend enough time around the Canadian bush, you see some incredibly stupid acts.

If you ever doubt a human being’s ability to reason, just put them in close proximity to one of Canada’s wild creatures. Darwin would suggest that the weak links will want to stop and play.

It’s your choice as to whether or not you let them.

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