My (grizzly) neighbours - Part Two

Grizzly bears attempt to corner a horse.

Grizzly bears attempt to corner a horse.

June 11, 2015 | by Peter Shaughnessy | 1 Comments

If you followed Part One of my grizzly bear chronicle, you'll know my motto to, "never leave the house without a camera." Over the years, I've captured many images, too many for a single posting so I have singled out bears as being the most inspiring; grizzly bears especially.

The number of grizzly bears using Tatlayoko Valley is high and this is one reason why the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) conservation work here is so important. The lack of development and the rich habitat in Tatlayoko make fine living arrangements for grizzly bears, and they certainly take advantage of that. A population census of grizzly bears conducted by NCC from 2006 through 2008 using DNA hair analysis found 54 individual grizzly bears in the valley. Twenty-one of those bears were found on NCC’s private land holdings within the valley.

The grizzly population here peaks in the spring when grizzlies are looking for new shoots of grasses and other plants to break their winter fast. NCC works to conserve these spring feeding and rearing areas as well as cross-range movement corridors. The number of bears (of both species) varies from year to year but there have been times when I feel obligated to look both ways before stepping out of my front door or office door.

Peter using bear aversion methodology #3 (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

Peter using bear aversion methodology #3 (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

A note on our bear aversion methodologies — we attempt to make things as unpleasant as possible for bears that choose our front yard for loafing and feeding, short of injuring them. This includes air horns, yelling, spraying them with water, throwing rocks, sticks and other objects, etc. We’ll use anything to encourage the bear to move on. This approach has worked extremely well for us.

Momma and her young son giving me the stink eye -

Momma and her young son giving me the stink eye -"That's close enough" is the message. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

We have had plenty of close encounters that could have turned out badly but so far I have been lucky with bear encounters in this regard. The bears know we are here of course and sometimes they give us the stink eye, like in this shot. The bear’s posture and body language in this photo make the message very clear, “That’s close enough!”

Sometimes we can get very close to the bears from the safety of our vehicle. With a good camera one can get outstanding images.

  • Beautifully coloured grizzly bear makes a calm stately retreat (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Beautifully coloured grizzly makes a calm retreat(Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
  • Brown phase black bear (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Brown phase black bear (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
  • Sleepy Grizzly up close and personal - This bear’s body language is very relaxed and in fact he appears a bit sleepy. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Sleepy Grizzly up close and personal. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
  • In this picture you can see the indentations made by the bear's claws ahead of the toe pads (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Indentations made by the bear's claws. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
  • More bear tracks (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    More bear tracks (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

 

One of the most exciting bear interactions since I moved here 27 years ago happened when a trio of grizzly bears wandered into the backyard early one morning.

My wife, Roma, went to saddle one of her two horses at the corral. She was preparing to monitor her bluebird route on horseback; most of the route is on NCC lands. A few minutes later, she was back at the house excitedly interrupting my breakfast saying, “Come out here quick! There is a bear behind the corral.” In her excitement she did not say there were three bears and she did not say they were grizzly bears…and she did not say bring a gun.

Thinking that this would be another great photo op I grab my camera and, despite my bare feet and skivvies, ran quickly to the corral, which is about 100 metres away. Wow! There were three grizzly bears: a sow and her two three-year-old cubs. This would have been their last year together before the sow pushed the cubs out on their own.

Dusky feeling the heat. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

Dusky feeling the heat. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

I think the cubs decided they would like to try horse meat for their breakfast. It was a very quiet morning and when I arrive I could hear the fence pinging as the two of the bears went through the wire. The only other sound was heavy breathing and snorting from Dusky, our 25 year-old mare. Even the birds were quiet during this event. The bears were suddenly in the corral, hazing Dusky one way then the other in an attempt to drive her into a corner. Dusky was not panicked but was trying to decide how serious this situation was and rushed back and forth wide-eyed and with tail held high. Meanwhile the sow waited quietly at the back, watching her kids do their thing with apparent pride.

After snapping a few photos I sprang into action, giving the bears my deepest, baddest roar — the kind of sound that comes from deep in the belly. I flatter myself to think it caught their attention… or was it the sight of a middle-aged barefoot guy in his skivvies that distracted them? In any case, they thought better of the situation and reluctantly and slowly retreated under the fence, pinging the wire on the way out, wandering off still hungry with their mom. I may have saved her life but Dusky never did thank me.

Mom and kids wander off in search of an alternate food supply. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

Mom and kids wander off in search of an alternate food supply. (Photo by Peter Shaughnessy)

Over the years I have come across some colossal grizzly bear tracks. Generally I carry bear spray, a radio and sometimes a firearm. But I have occasionally found myself alone in the bush, without a weapon or a radio. At those times, seeing one of these tracks gives me a helpful dose of humility and strong sense of how weak and vulnerable I am. If the track is not fresh it makes the hair on my neck stand at full attention. If the track is fresh...Well, I won’t go into detail about that. A hasty and watchful retreat is in order.

About the Author

Peter Shaughnessy is the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s former project manager for BC’s West Chilcotin area.

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