Bearly Made It

Adolescent Grizzly Bear

I stood transfixed. Something in my head wasn't connecting. What I could see playing out on the little LCD screen on the camera surely wasn't happening for real? Right now! My blood had run cold. In the same instant my gaze dropped from the calm scene down river from me. A large caribou was standing firm, in the middle of the river, apparently unfazed my us. He had given us time to get the camcorder out and mounted on the tripod in the middle of the river on a gravel bank just down from our marooned boat. Sun highlighting the velvet on the animal's antlers, it was quite the scene, and we were chuffed to have the opportunity to film it. It seemed strange though that the caribou should be so unfazed by our presence. My eyes came into focus. Red splattered arterial blood by my feet. My inner ear pounded with a sudden increase of blood flow. Oxygen desperately tried to make its way to my brain. Instinctual, primitive reactions fired through my body. Ready to fight or make flight. In the space of time it took to draw a deep breath a deep corner of my primate mind had assessed the surroundings. Escape routes established and discounted as futile. My hand found its way to the pepper spray safety catch without conscious direction. 

How could we have been so stupid!? Everything fell into place. Whilst watching the caribou, an adolescent grizzly bear, entered the fray for river left. Swimming at speed he made his way towards the beleaguered caribou. Clearly he had already taken a bite out of him and the poor beast was taking refuge in the deeper water. Bear spray at the ready, and knives drawn, we scanned the horizon in case the bear was not alone. Dense scrub carpeted either side of the valley. We would have no advance warning. There was no heading down river without going through the predator and prey entanglement and heading back up would be impossible. We would have to hold our ground. Resolved to carry on filming I did my best to keep the camera on the action whilst constantly checking all around us. The bear was chasing the caribou through the water. The caribou was out swimming the bear. The caribou was swimming up river towards us! Suddenly the bear veered off from his pursuit and disappeared into the brush on river left. We formed up and braced ourselves.

Sure enough, our bear appeared. Straight out of the bushes not more than 10 metres away from us. We tried talking to it in calm assertive tones. We had heard this was a successful tactic employed by Native Americans. When you are in a situation like this it is surprisingly easy to stay calm as there is no choice. It is straight forward survival - panic, show fear or run and you're dead.

Route to the canoe cut off

The bear circled us, rising out of the water, with young but powerful arms. This wasn't a huge bear, but like any teenager, he was unpredictable. If he was prepared to take on a caribou we could well be a tempting alternative! Coming between us and the canoe, he stopped and sniffed the air, checking us out. Raising his nose, perhaps weighing his chances, we were afforded a glimpse of his teeth. Looking disinterested he lumbered on into the next river channel and climbed up the bank. Then he was gone.

Not wanting to push our luck we quickly packed up the boat and pushed off. We wished the caribou well as we passed. He had a chunk bitten out of his rear leg but was still standing. We felt sorry for him but couldn't help reflecting that we had been lucky the bear had found him minutes before we had come around that corner. Sobering thoughts for two little specks of humanity deep within the Yukon wilderness!