I was reading the news from Canada today, and there were two stories of bears. The first one was about a bear that partially ate a convicted killer who died in his car in a remote area of British Columbia. The second story is about a man who was attacked by a bear while relaxing in a hot tub in Whistler, British Columbia.
In Australia, the most common wildlife hazards while in the bush are poisonous snakes. Having done a lot of field work in Canada, I can attest to the threats of bears. Bears are probably the most common creature you will find in the bush that could cause you problems (well, aside from black flies). I thought I would share some of the bear stories I have had through my years doing field work.
Back in 2003, I was doing some work in northern Ontario, collecting sediment samples for gold exploration. The crew included one other student and the boss of the operation. The other student and I were bunked up in a bus, while the boss was in a tent outside. One stormy night, the boss comes into the bus, obviously agitated. He opens up a box, grabs a rifle, goes outside, then *bang*! I could hear a moaning sound and rustling. The next morning, the boss tells us that a bear had been climbing up the side of the bus, and he shot towards it to scare it away! Obviously, the boss was concerned, seeing as how he was sleeping in a tent outside.
A few days later, I was washing some dishes, and the boss, sitting about 20 m away, noted that there was a bear walking down the road not too far from where I was. I looked over, said “oh”, and continued washing the dishes. The bear continued on its way down the road, and the boss again comes out with the rifle. I went to the road, and on top of a hill not too far away, the other student was hiding behind a bush with a stick, and the bear was walking right towards him! The boss shot at the bear, and it ran away.
Another bear story I have happened when I was collecting geophysical data for my honors thesis. I had set up an instrument in a provincial park near the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba (where I was attending university). The equipment was wrapped in a tarpaulin to protect it from the elements. One day I arrived, and noted that the equipment had moved several meters from where I set it up! I looked at the tarpaulin, and noted it had four holes in it, exactly the position of bear claws. I was a bit surprised, because I assumed there there were no bears in the park. End result – I needed to buy a new tarpaulin.
Another great bear story happened a few years ago when I was working for a geophysical service company in Kamloops, British Columbia. We had set up some equipment in a forest south of the city, and the nature of the survey required that the data collection happened during the night. My office was in a hotel room in the city. One night, around 2 a.m., I get a loud bang on the door, which startled me as I would not expect the crew back until later. The crew member who had operated the equipment was freaking out, “There was a grizzly bear, it destroyed everything!”. The field boss went there the next morning to see the aftermath. The bear was obviously irate, and had wrapped wires around trees, and smashed the recording boxes, causing thousands of dollars in damage. It was very lucky the bear did not notice crew member when he was investigating, as grizzly bears can be quite aggressive if threatened.
Bear encounters are common when doing field work in Canada, but in general a bear will only attack if threatened. It is always a good idea to work in groups while in the bush, especially in areas where grizzly bears live. If you make enough noise to alert the bear of your presence, you will never encounter a bear in the bush. The most common reason for a bear encounter is when food is left out in camps. As a result, the utmost care must be taken when storing food (one time when I was camping in the Yukon, where the trees were too small to hang our supplies out of reach, we hung them off a steep cliff!). Like snakes in Australia, it is necessary to be fully aware of what to do before heading out to do field work.