Tuesday 6 December 2016

The three bears

This week’s winner, Sean O’Connor from Gorey, Co Wexford, travelled through the Canadian wilderness in search of an ursine encounter...

Sean O'Connor

Published 08/01/2011 | 05:00

The three grizzly bears ambled down the mountain slope in our direction, heading towards the grass which grew beside the shoreline. One was a mother bear and the other two were playful cubs.

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Unfortunately they disappeared in the long grass. Were we to be disappointed at the last moment?

We had come a long way into the wilderness of British Colombia to the Khutzeymateen National Park, Canada's only grizzly bear sanctuary. Our guide had told us if we wanted to walk out, we were a two-week hike from the nearest road.

At this stage it would be disheartening to return without seeing this elusive animal in the flesh for more than a few seconds. But, of course, when viewing wildlife, patience is not only a virtue, it is a necessity.

After what seemed a long time, but was just a few minutes, the mother grizzly emerged from the tall grass. We were struck by the immense sense of power she displayed as she slowly walked along, emphasised by the large hump of muscle mass over her shoulder.

This muscle is used to help in digging for roots and other food, and also to help her run. I could now understand how they reach speeds of up to 35mph.

Their dangerous reputation far exceeds the actual number of attacks on people, but one should not take chances as a mother grizzly and her cubs are a very dangerous combination. The instinct of the mother is to protect her offspring.

Either way, we were not taking any chances as our viewpoint was from a small boat floating silently just offshore. It was the perfect way to see these wonderful creatures at close quarters and yet not disturb or worry them in any way.

It was not that they were unaware of our presence, but we did not offer any threat. The mother would glance at us and the cubs would peer up curiously through the grass, but that was the extent of their interest.

For a number of hours we watched the mother grizzly move along the shoreline eating grass. Before long, they would congregate along the local rivers, the Khutzeymateen and the Kateen, and eat their fill of salmon.

It was late afternoon when the mother decided that she'd had her fill of grass and roots. She glanced up at the sky as if testing the wind and then unhurriedly headed for the trees; the cubs, who had been playing around a fallen tree, quickly followed and they all disappeared from view.

We waited for a long time in the hope they would return but they never did, and we began our return journey to Prince Rupert, a three-hour boat journey away.

Our wildlife viewing was not over yet, but that is another story.

COULD YOU WRITE A WINNING TRAVEL STORY?

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