Why Care About Bears?
For millennia bears have been of special interest to people all over the world. In all northern countries they stand out in artistic expression and everywhere folklore is inspired by them. For those who care about wilderness, they create our frame of reference and shape the way we relate to land and to nature. If one lives in an area that can support a healthy bear population, that area is also healthy enough to support people. Before guns were invented man either had to share the land with the bears or leave the area. It was an easy decision, we shared with them and we had to do it nicely. Guns changed the way we relate to ourselves, to animals and to the land. That instrument of brutality seems to take away our ability to know peacefulness.
For many years I have been interested in creating a better situation for bears. Because I like them I feel that they have been mans targets for long enough. To feel good about killing them, hunters have to invent false ideas about them. They claim that bears are ferocious, unpredictable, and that they can only be tolerated if they are fearful of humans. I have spent longer than anyone in the world, exploring those three premises and found them all to be untrue.
My goal now is to teach people that they can like these wonderful animals much more than we have been encouraged to do in the past. My thinking is that if people are fonder of bears, they will go to more trouble to do the things necessary to allow us to find some harmony with them; like detailing our garbage for instance and using some of the proven tools to keep bears from becoming a nuisance. Bears are very intelligent, they are large, strong and they have teeth so they need to learn again to like people. It is quite obvious and makes common sense that bears are less dangerous if we could stop hassling them. We “aversive condition” them with dogs, rubber bullets, noise makers, or we uproot them and take far away to a unfamiliar place so that all their previous hard work to learn how to get along where they were and what there was available for them to eat there, is suddenly all wasted energy. This is a huge adversity for them when they have a life and death need to put enough fat on to survive a long winter.
The documentary The Edge of Eden shows you this animal for what it really is. People can identify with and very much like this animal when it is presented in a truthful way. It reveals the amazing response from bears that I got when I gave the bears at my research area in Russia, kindness instead of violence. It is not a demonstration of what you can do anywhere you meet a bear because the bears in this documentary had never had any bad experience with man. Nowhere in North America is there a place where you can surprise a bear and know that it is innocent of human brutality and therefore not going to hurt you. Bears are very forgiving and because of this you are safe in most situations, even when they have been harshly treated for the past 25 years of their life. Only if they had had nothing but good experiences with people would they be predictably safe in there response to you in every circumstance. Just put yourself in the same situation to understand what I mean by this.
Most people are afraid of bears because of what they have been told about them. When they are in bear country they imagine these animals hunting them as prey. I have seen bears hunting and believe me, we could not live with them at all if they regarded us as prey. Why they do not do this is a question that is beyond me. Killer whales are the same in this regard, but bears are different from them in one way. A few of them seem to understand that our treatment of them is unfair and decide that they have had enough. Those are the bears that we hear about in the media. Their explosive, fed up, behavior is always reported like it was the norm. If we could understand the history of those few animals, we could most likely identify with there actions.
For the last 20 years I have been gathering information about bear’s ability to coexist. I want the public to see them for what they are, but it is difficult to erase the image that our hunting culture has falsely instilled in us for centuries.
I am convinced that bears have the ability to share the land with us. The bigger question is, are we sophisticated enough to change our ways and do a better job learning what this takes. Liking them enough to make the effort is a start and that is what I am trying to do. I am showing you what is possible with them if we are kind. We get what we give with this animal and what we have been giving is not what we would what to have done to us.