Recently, I came across a mother bear and her two cubs as they were crossing a highway in northern Quebec. It seemed like a good idea to get a better look at these beautiful creatures so I turned around and parked on the side of the road near where they were standing in a ditch.
The mother bear was huge and the babies were well on their way to being teenagers. As teens they immediately had an interest in me in my truck only a few metres away. They both stood up to peer over tall grass and get a better look at me. I was curious too so I rolled the window down to get a good look.
Suddenly, the mother bear, which had been trying to coax her teens to follow her into the forest, turned and raced towards me. She stopped a few feet from the truck and began to thump her front paws onto the ground in a very menacing way. My eyes locked with hers and all I could see was rage. It almost seemed as though steam was billowing from her ears and I could have sworn for a minute her eyes glared red. I rolled the window back up so fast that it almost caught the tip of my nose.
I decided it was wise to start up the old Ford and leave quickly. It was not that I was actually afraid she would charge me in the truck, but honestly something inside me reacted instinctively to her wish to scare the heck out of me. I am quite sure that if I had been standing alone there by the highway gaping at her and the cubs without the safety of being in a big North American truck, I would have been torn to shreds. She was very definitely not happy with my interest in her or her cubs.
Happily, alive and well and on my way down the highway, I thought of mother bear and her cubs and I felt a little guilty at having just pulled up and intruded on their little jaunt across the highway. They were just out enjoying their territory and probably looking for food. It was not a banner year for blueberries so I imagine bears are having a more difficult time than usual to prepare for hibernation. They must put on some fat before they fall asleep for the winter.
Come to think of it I have seen more bears and cubs than I normally would this year and that probably has to do with them being hungry as a result of the bad berry year. Also, I have noticed news articles in newspapers in northern Ontario and northern Quebec about bears sauntering into towns and cities looking for food. It seems strange that out on the land in a remote area I don’t see that many bears, but people in urban areas south of me are seeing them turn up on their streets. The bears must be starving if they are braving walks into small towns and cities as they normally stay very far away from people if they possibly can.
I imagine that if I were starving and there were settlements around me where creatures lived and happily spent their days gorging themselves on all types of tasty foods then I too would probably risk a short visit to see if there was anything I could nibble on. Most of the time bears don’t encroach on places where humans are living, but from time to time they do and mostly that has to do with hunger. They also have become accustomed to us due to our own ignorance. I have seen families stop to see bears on the highway and toss them food. This makes a bear think they are always going to get a treat when they run into humans.
Most of the time bears don’t really want to go out of their way to harm anyone of us but if they are with any cubs that is a very different story. Do not ever get caught in a situation where you run into a mother bear and her cubs out on the land. If you surprise them it will not end well. You can forget about that old myth that has to do with laying down and playing dead – too many people who have done that have ended up leaving this life in a very violent fashion. Some people say you can climb a tree but the thing is that bears are much better tree climbers than we are. They love climbing trees and are built for it. Then again, many people declare that you just have to make yourself big and create a lot of noise to scare a bear off. Much of the time that might work but if a mother and her cubs are around it will only inflame the situation.
Actually, I can’t think of any advice that I would feel good about giving anyone when meeting up with a mother bear and her cubs. The best thing to do is to have enough sense to know where you are on the land and what animals are nearby. Check with local people to find out if they have seen any bears with cubs around the area. Make lots of noise when you are traveling in the forest so that mama bear has time to spirit her cubs away. Don’t leave garbage out and, oh, by the way, have your favourite prayer ready if somehow your luck ever brings you face to face with a mother bear and her cubs.