Weighing in at up to 800 pounds and reaching a height of almost 9ft when standing, in the red corner we have Ursus arctos horribilis. Translation? Horrible brown bear (doesn’t exactly instil feelings of warmth). And in the blue corner? Well, us, humans (things just got a little chillier).
The grizzly bear and the humanoid. Its been a tumultuous relationship at the best of times and recently it’s been getting even stormier. This beast roams North America and is classed as any subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and is referred to by scientists, as the North American brown bear. Having previously been widespread throughout North America, the grizzly is now confined to small pockets of North America, with most being found in Canada and Alaska. However, there is one place where their populations are doing well and have been improving. You guessed it. Yellowstone National Park. 63 miles long and 54 miles wide, Yellowstone is an area of pure wilderness, its wildlife now being renowned worldwide. Many species thrive here and over recent decades the grizzly has been one of them. In 1975 there were around 136 bears in yellowstone but was then thought to be between 674 and 839 in 2014. Quite an improvement!
But this tale of triumph has now been tinted by black thunder clouds that sit ominously on the horizon of this bears future. Their success is now walking hand in hand with their downfall. Because not only is Yellowstone a favourite for wildlife, it is a favourite for tourists. Hiking, biking, boating, angling and of course, wildlife watching is just a taste of the activities available. So what happens when we have nearly 4 million visitors trampling through the park each year and an increasing number of grizzlies? At some point, there is going to be a run in. And it’s not going to be a pleasant one.
There was a stark and devastating reminder of this in August of this year. A hiker was killed by a female grizzly bear, accompanied by her two cubs. And what happened next? Well, using DNA they were able to identify the female and she paid the ultimate price for her actions. The park took her life and her cubs have been condemned to a lifetime of captivity.
Now I would never down play such an event and it saddens me hugely to think of the victim and the effect that this had on his family and friends, but something about this doesn’t sit well with me. Unfortunately, because this grizzly and her cubs had fed on the victim, their fate was sealed, but had they not, she would probably still be alive today. Over the 144 years of history that the park has, there have been 8 deaths caused by grizzly bears. More people have died from falls, drownings and even burns from hot springs. But when a grizzly kills a person, the park launches an investigation into why it happened and what happened. Now, the grizzly bear is an omnivore, feeding mainly on berries, some grasses, nuts and of course, fish. When it comes to large prey, they are more of a scavenger than a hunter. However, if this omnivore feeds on a human victim, they are usually always condemned.
So, what does it all boil down to? If an animal exhibits instinctual behaviour, they are a danger and therefore will likely lose their life. But this is a WILD animal (wild: living in a natural state), they are unpredictable and uncontrollable. They should always be treated with the greatest caution and in an area like Yellowstone, there are certain rules and guidelines in order to protect against such an event. Often, guidelines are not adhered by many, and some fall victim to an attack. I’m not blaming those people of course, but I’m also not blaming the bear. Now, there is the argument that if a bear feeds on a human they will then view humans as a food source. This has been the case for years with many species of carnivore (or omnivore in this case). Sharks, bears, lions, cougars etc have all suffered if they attack a human. But taking an animal that has killed a human will not solve anything and there is an odd belief that if an animal kills a human they will become some rampant savage beast that exists for no other purpose than to kill humans.
There are more threats in every day life. I once had an aggressive border collie/german shepherd cross. She was terrifying. Apart from us, she hated dogs and she hated people. She had a bad start in life and her mental state was to protect herself at all times and she chose to do this with aggression. She bit my father and my brother on several occasions and I would try and walk her at times when I was unlikely to come across other people. One walk sticks in my mind though. She was on the lead, she was under control and we came across a man walking alone. I stopped, pulled her to the side of the path and stood in front of her. Her reaction was the usually. Rippling growls, snarls, barks and rearing up, all whilst I held her tightly. She didn’t get within five feet of the man, but with an unpleasant look he turned to me and uttered.
‘You should keep that dog under control!’
I retaliated with a childish remark about letting her off the lead and then we can see what not under control is like. I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that obviously, but i was exasperated! Every step was taken with Poppy (ironically sweet name) to make sure she was kept under control. When people visited she was shut in another room as she barked and growled away. Yet still, this was not good enough because she wasn’t behaving in a way acceptable to us humans. But take a step back, the reason why she had such a personality was because of how a previous human had brought her up.
What’s that got to do with the grizzly? It’s all a classic case of attributing human emotions to animals. The animal must be evil, the animal must be a psychotic murderer. No. The animal, more than likely was frightened, disturbed, startled or felt threatened. Cue the fight of flight response and with a predator the response is usually fight. But this is all easy for me to say. I have not suffered an attack from a bear or any other species. But if I or someone I loved did suffer an attack I know for a fact that I would not want that animal hunted down and shot. It wouldn’t help me or those that love me. These attacks are so rare and so often have a reason behind them that the reaction to kill is bizarre. After all, lets not forget that we are stepping into this animals territory and our behaviour should be cautious at all times.
Sadly, when it comes to wildlife, animals can’t win. We should be treated like the superior species that we think we are. All habitats and all areas of the world belong to us. We conserve a species but only when they act as we think they should. An animal kills a human so we kill it. An eye for an eye? But doesn’t ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’?
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