An Eye for an Eye?

Dave's Wild Life

If you’re a man-eater it pays to be a shark. Chances are you’ll never suffer for putting people on your menu. It’s a big ocean out there and the odds of getting nabbed are slim to none. If you’re a bear gone bad, you’re probably going to get caught and killed.

I have a lot of respect for bears. I have encountered black bears in Canada, Colorado, and our own local woods and swamps. Most of them, startled by my presence, ran the opposite direction. Some years back, I spent a week on Kodiak Island. I never saw a brown bear the whole time, and honestly, I was not disappointed. This was not cruise ship Alaska. My buddies and I spent days on end playing cat and mouse with the local deer population, crawling along bear trails through dense alder thickets to reach the grassy deer stalking grounds high in the hills. You didn’t have to actually see a brown bear to appreciate them, you could acutely feel their presence and just seeing their dens, tracks and trails is enough to make you more than aware that you’re far from the top of the food chain. Oddly, I never felt more alive.

This summer, two grizzly bears died for just being what they are, unpredictable wild animals. These incidents involved wild bears in Wyoming and Montana. In the first instance, it appears that a scientist and a grizzly surprised one another and a spooked bear can easily adopt the mantra of “bite first and ask questions later.” The person unfortunately did not survive the encounter. In the second case, a female grizzly accompanied by her three cubs, rummaged through a Montana campground and another person lost their life. Apparently those bears were just hungry due to a lack of natural food sources this year. But even when food is properly secured, the smell is still in the air. A brown bear can smell your dinner two miles away.

“Park” bears are those that have become far too comfortable in the presence of people. They watch us, learn our habits, try to steal our food and in the worst case, attack us. These bears are typically more dangerous than “wilderness” bears. These are bears that seldom come into contact with humans and earn their living the hard way by foraging for nuts, berries, bugs, ground squirrels, and the occasional large mammal. I recently questioned a bear expert on these recent incidents and the variables in bear behavior. This fellow said he’d be more comfortable sleeping in a remote area amongst wilderness bears than in a campground with park bears slinking around. I made a note of that for future reference.

In both of the aforementioned incidents the “guilty” parties were trapped and killed. The male bear in Wyoming was euthanized. In the case of the Montana bear family, the cubs were spared (only after a public outcry) and sent to an accredited zoo, which granted, is not the wild, but they will have quality care and a nice environment in which to live. However, I question the protocol involved that saves the cubs but kills their mother. If sent to a zoo, there are no more tents for her to tear up and other than a careless keeper, no more people to attack. It’s almost that archaic “eye for an eye” mentality. Analyze all you like but these are just animals being animals. Period.

I encourage everyone to appreciate the great outdoors firsthand, just be smart about it. A basic knowledge of bear behavior and a can of bear spray could save your life and a bear's life, too.

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