I spent much of last night feeling very sorry for a little black bear.
When I was very young, I was quite afraid of bears — my imagination was active — but I quickly grew to love and respect them. At the research station in the Whiteshell Provincial Park where dad worked, I had favourite bears. They got a wide berth, and the respect large wild animals deserve (we certainly took great care wild blueberry picking), but I found them wondrous. Their glossy black coats, their cleverness and surprising agility converted me to a lover of bears.
Occasionally, though, bears became a problem. I knew that it was not the fault of the bear, rather a conflict between the activities of people and bears being bears. The supply of free food found in garbages could sometimes result in a bear overcoming its fear of humans and becoming dangerous. Care was taken to try to give these bears a chance to live their lives. They would be trapped, tagged and moved. But the third time was not lucky. On the third return, the bear would be shot.
One year my favourite was a stunning creature — its black coat was tremendously shiny and it had a white blaze on its forehead. It was beautiful and awesome. And it became a problem bear. It was moved twice. I didn't know it had been killed, but its lifeless body was given to the aboriginal people that lived nearby, and I learned some hard lessons. His skin was tanned on the rock ridge, stretched on a frame, and I cried my eyes out. For days. I couldn't go up there, knowing I'd see his pelt.
Last night's bear had been near O'Brien beach before we arrived. The beach is still a popular spot, including with us, after it closes daily at 6:00. Yesterday was the busiest day of the year, I think. You had to avoid people as you crossed the beach. Wildlife officers had been there while we were swimming, took some action, and left.
At a year and a half, black bear cubs become independent. But there is still much to learn. As we were getting out of the pond the young bear was absolutely terrified by the screaming and car horns its attempt to climb the fence at the beach had inspired. It was the right thing to scare it, but how I felt for that young animal, obviously terrified, losing bladder control as it scampered up the tree as quickly as it could.
We immediately packed up and left, and reported it to a security guard locking up a gate further up the road on our way out of the park. But some people actually stood on the roadway, 8 or 10 feet from the tree the bear was in, taking pictures.
So I spent much of the evening feeling very sorry for that bear, hoping it had learned a lesson, and wondering if there's a way to inspire healthier respect for its kind in some of ours.