Articles

NEVER GET FRIENDLY WITH A FRIENDLY BEAR

Don’t let our pet Jasper fool you with his comic charm. In the fur, bears can be tougher than traffic cops with sore heads. They don’t know their own strength and will sometimes help themselves to the hand that’s feeding them

FRED BODSWORTH December 1 1950
Articles

NEVER GET FRIENDLY WITH A FRIENDLY BEAR

Don’t let our pet Jasper fool you with his comic charm. In the fur, bears can be tougher than traffic cops with sore heads. They don’t know their own strength and will sometimes help themselves to the hand that’s feeding them

FRED BODSWORTH December 1 1950

NEVER GET FRIENDLY WITH A FRIENDLY BEAR

Don’t let our pet Jasper fool you with his comic charm. In the fur, bears can be tougher than traffic cops with sore heads. They don’t know their own strength and will sometimes help themselves to the hand that’s feeding them

FRED BODSWORTH

THE men whose job it is to keep an eye on Canada’s birds and beasts have a problem: How do you keep wild black bears wild? Biologists tell us that Canada’s bears are becoming too tame and sociable. It’s serious. Tame bears, they say, are dangerous. Oddly enough, only a wild man-hating bear is a safe bear to have around.

You can always tell what a genuine wild bear will do. When he smells man scent he will gallop for the hills at 25 m.p.h. Trouble is, Canada and the U. S. don’t have many of these genuine wild bears left. Many of Canada’s bears have abandoned their wilderness way of life and become sociable parasites around towns, lumber camps and tourist lodges. They have discovered it’s much easier to live off hand-outs than to make a living the old way.

All this has our park officials and wildlife experts worried. Bruin means well but he has atrocious table manners. He sits around camp politely munching bread or bacon rind handouts, then shuffles up and makes off with a couple of loaves of bread or a side of bacon. Usually he leaves a wrecked tent or food locker behind. In parks like Jasper in Alberta black bears will eat chocolate bars and cookies out of visitors’ hands. But if they don’t start getting at least half a dozen cookies at a time they may claw the flesh off a man’s arm.

Every summer park rangers rush several persons to first-aid stations with clawed arms and nipped fingers. Bears are short-tempered. They won’t take teasing. A bear will take a sandwich out of a tourist’s hand like a gentleman. Then he’ll notice that the fellow has a box of sandwiches concealed behind his hack and he will knock the tourist over to get the whole box.

Some years ago, near Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario, a friendly bear was accepting candy from a U. S. woman tourist. She began teasing, holding out a candy and jerking it hack to make the hear sit up. He didn’t like this. He took one swipe with his paw and raked her with his claws from her face to her knees. She is scarred for life.

As Goldilocks found out, there are great big l>ears, middle-sized l>ears and wee little bears.

On the coastal slopes of Alaska is the Alaskan brown !>ear, an overgrown grizzly that sometimes fattens up to 1,500 pounds and walks off carrying the carcass of a bull elk, which weighs the better part of a ton, as though it were an extra overcoat. The middle-sized l>ear is the gri/zlv. a hulking

800 pounds of brawn who has retreated into the remote wilderness areas of the Rockies. Biologists estimate that fewer than 600 grizzlies survive in the U. S. Only in British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska do big-game hunters still find them.

America’s wee little bear is the black bear— “wee little” as bears go, yet still big enough to tip scales occasionally at 600 pounds and rip the roof boards off a summer cottage as though it was a match box. This is the bear on most of the continent from Mexico to the Arctic. Most of them are coal black with a brown snout, though in parts of the West there is a brown one.

How do you tell a grizzly from a black bear? One B. C. guide suggests: “Climb a tree and if the

bear climbs after you it’s a black.” Grizzlies climb well until they are about a year old, then their claws will no longer support their weight. Black bears climb like kittens.

Won’t Even Hug Blondes

There are more exact ways of telling them apart. The grizzly has a prominent shoulder hump and a big round dishpan face. The black hear isn’t humpbacked and has a narrower, more pointed face. If youPbear ambles up with a friendly “woof,” sits on his haunches and begs for something to eat, it’s Blackie. Just the same you’d better tell him to rustle up his own dinner if you want to keep on counting to ten on your fingers.

Ever since Champlain became Canada’s first bear hunter we’ve been slandering the black hear as a pig-thieving, baby-snatching bruiser with a rib-crushing bear hug for every human he meets.

A few million armchair hunters have the idea that a bear rears up on his hind legs at sight of man and charges with the speed of an express train tit’s always an express train). If the hold hunter’s trusty Winchester doesn’t knock bruin out of commission when he’s six feet away tit’s always six feet, too), the bear snatches up his adversary and hugs him until his ribs are shattered.

No hear has yet shown the least desire to hug anyone and they’ve met their share of blondes in shorts, too.

Truth is, the black bear would much sooner eat chocolate cake or peppermints than chew on a leg of man. He just doesn’t know his own strength, that’s all. He might claw a couple of ! avers of flesh

off a man’s back with a friendly “woof” that just means “Huyy up and pass the peppermints.”

In parks and resorts, bears are fine tourist attractions. But park officials would sleep better if tourists were not so interested in bears.

Tame bears can never be relied upon to continue acting like tame bears. A mother who thinks her cubs are threatened or a touchy old daddy alarmed by a back-firing car are at times Instantly transformed into frantic wild animals.

Bears in Jasper Park have been as domesticated as fox terriers ever since Earl Haig opened the golf course there in 1925 and at the fourth hole a big black daddy clouted Haig’s ball down the fairway with his paw. Bears sometimes sit on the golf course benches. Yet last June, when Vince Holbert, a University of Alberta student, stopped to admire two playful cubs the mother bear charged, knocked him down with one swipe of her paw and began chewing on his leg. The bear was finally frightened away by the shouts of Holbert’s companions.

In a summer home area of northern Michigan, near Sault Ste. Marie, bears started getting chummy two years ago, entertaining cottagers by eating from garbage pits while people watched. One became too chummy and lost his fear of man. He dragged off three-year-old Carol Pomeranky and left her dead in the bush.

This is the only recorded instance of a black bear making an unprovoked attack on a human. There are other records of attacks by bears but all are cases in which the bear was teased, protecting cubs, or wounded.

But when tourists get too close they aren’t safe whether the hear attacks or not. Bears aren’t gentle. In Yellowstone Park, Wyo., a tourmt photographing a friendly liear got between the bear and an empty syrup can the animal was eyeing. The bear gave the tourist a little nudge to push him out of the way. The nudge broke the man’s shoulder.

“When bears get into trouble with tourists it is usually the tourists’ fault,” says Dr. William J. K. Darkness, chief of the Ontario Government’s division of fish and wildlife. "In Algonquin Park we have hears fearless enough to gather at garbage dumps when people are standing near, but they’re not tame enough to let people feed them. We want to keep them that way. Because when bears let tourists approach close, sooner or la*er someone

does something foolish and gets himself hurt.”

The bears seem intent on developing a close association with man whether the wildlife experts approve or not.

In Waterton, a resort town in southern Alberta, last summer a bear ambled down the main street, came to an open tavern door, strolled through the lobby and headed like a seasoned pub-crawler for the beverage room. While drinkers scattered and waiters hid behind the bar the bear squatted on a table and clawed plaster from the ceiling. Ten minutes later he ambled out and returned to the bush.

Residents of Fort William, Port Arthur and Sault Ste. Marie are growing accustomed to seeing bears on the streets. In Port Arthur last fall a woman called police and exclaimed: “There’s a

bear walking up my sidewalk.” Police cruisers arrived but the bear had disappeared. Other residents began reporting bears on their sidewalks. Cruisers sped from street to street, always about one block behind the bear, as radio messages from headquarters kept them on the trail. Finally the police cornered the bear under a verandah and shot him. Two hours later a second bear was cornered in a tree and also shot.

At Hearst, Ont., a farmer's wife glanced out her window and saw a bear muscling pigs away from a barnyard feed trough. She chased it back into the bush with a broom while the pigs squealed applause.

Bears have keen curiosity, keen noses and very poor eyesight. Men in the bush frequently become alarmed and fear a bear is about to attack them when actually the animal is only lured by curiosity or scent and unable to see clearly what it is getting into.

A Powerful Smeller In That Snout

In northwestern Ontario’s Quetico Park last summer Sig Olson, biologist for the Izaak Walton League, told me of a bear encounter he had a few years ago. He had stopped at a Quetico campsite, unloaded his canoe and left two freshly caught lake trout lying in the shade under one of the packs. Then he walked into the bush a few yards to cut wood. He climbed onto the trunk of a fallen tree and at the other end of the tree 100 feet away saw a mother bear and two cubs. The big bear was facing him, swaying her head from side to side and snorting impatiently. Olson knew that a mother bear with cubs might attack. If he ran for his canoe the bear

could easily overtake him. If he climbed a tree, probably the bear would come right up after him. He gripped his axe and waited.

The bear moved slowly along the tree, head tossing, nostrils wide and sniffing noisily. Olson glanced around and selected a small jack pine. If he had to he could climb it and hope that it was too small for the bear to follow. The bear approached more rapidly. If he turned to run she could be on top of him in three bounds.

Then the bear, ignoring him, jumped down from the tree, ambled past a few feet away, picked up the lake trout from under his packsack and carried the fish back to her cubs. She hadn’t seen him, had merely smelled the fish and was sniffing her way along the fallen tree toward them.

Two lakehead men on a fishing trip two years ago were portaging into Trout Lake, 25 miles northwest of Fort William. One took the canoe, the other followed with camp equipment. It was a steep trail and the leading man, his head under the canoe, could hear his companion puffing along behind. For half a mile he kept chatting, telling jokes, and when his pal didn’t answer he attributed the silence to his shortness of breath. At the top of the ridge he put the canoe down Continued on page 47

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for a rest and turned around. He had been talking for half a mile to a bear. His pal was nowhere in sight. When the fisherman turned around the bear headed pell-mell for Hudson Bay. Of the two of them, the bear got the biggest fright.

When bears get tame enough and bold enough to raid camps and summer cottages they are the curse of the northwoods. When a bear smells food, and he can smell it half a mile, only fear of man will keep him away from it. When he loses this ancestral fear, as so many bears now have, nothing can protect your grub box. A bearproof cabin hasn’t been built: a 300-pound bear will rip the siding off a cottage and make his own doorway.

Electricity Just Tickles Him

A meat-house of one Northern Ontario bush camp near Española was torn apart and plundered three times by bears in the fall of 1949. Each time it was rebuilt stronger than before, and each time the bears broke in. Finally it was surrounded by an electric fence. Bears tore the fence down too. Finally permission was obtained to shoot the bears.

A single bear once carried an ice box from a cabin porch at Pancake Bay, near Sault Ste. Marie, opened it with a swipe of a paw and ate: five T-bone steaks, two pounds of butter, two dozen eggs (shells and all), most of a 19pound ham, six quarts of milk, two tins of fruit juice and a bottle of beer.

Resort owners and cottagers have tried everything except atom bombs to keep bears from joining their summer parties. Cottagers in Algonquin Park have strung up rods of electric fencing. Bear fur is so thick that the hot wires merely tickle him. In Yellowstone Park strangers decided that cayenne pepper ought to turn the trick. They sprinkled it thickly on slices of meat where raiding bears were a nuisance. But the bears gulped the peppered meat, sneezed a bit, gulped

another piece, another sneeze—then they stopped sneezing but kept right on gulping. The pepper was tasty seasoning.

Next they tried frightening the bears with tear-gas shells. A ranger approached within 12 feet of a bothersome bear and gave him a tear-gas blast full in the face. The bear galloped off about 50 feet, stopped and turned around to see what had hit him. He wasn’t even blinking. The ranger, meanwhile, was blinded for 10 minutes by the blast of his own gun. It worked no better on other bears.

In Algonquin Park the Ontario Government has forced some larger resorts to install garbage incinerators. Bears that become too bold and make nuisances of themselves are sometimes shot. Superintendent George Phillips is urging cottagers to build concrete cupboards or root cellars outside their cabins to store food where bears cannot damage anything trying to reach it.

“We’re trying to keep the bears wild,” says Phillips. “It’s best for us and for them too, but they’re not very co-operative.”

One guide up Armstrong way, north of Lake Nipigon, agrees that bears can be too friendly. He had a city angler with him on a fishing trip recently. Both had crawled into sleeping bags inside their tent for the night when the angler remembered he had left his camera outside. He went out to bring it in. While outside he heard a fish jumping in the lake and pushed off in the canoe to make a few casts.

A Bear in the Next Bed

The guide, half asleep, heard pots and pans clattering outside and thought his companion was looking for the camera. Then he was dimly conscious of someone entering the tent and lying down beside him. He was awakened by explosive snoring. He reached across and gave his tent mate a stiff poke in the ribs. His fist buried itself in wiry fur.

There was a startled “woof” and a bear took off for the timber with the tent and a couple of tent poles draped over its shoulders. ir