Bloody Bears and Humans
I have spent quite a bit of time in the “near north” – not the high Arctic, but still far enough north that I have seen arctic foxes, caribou, ptarmigan, arctic hares, belugas, and, of course, polar bears. And this has not been from the comfort of a tour vehicle; we have generally been on foot, out on the open land.
There have been several occasions when we have had to move out of an area quickly because a bear suddenly appeared over the bluff, and other times when a bear has watched us for quite some time from a (relatively) safe distance, as though he was bored and wanted us to provide entertainment. They have been close enough for us to get the shotgun ready and pull the cracker pistol out of its holster. Still, I have never had a really scary encounter with one of these creatures, and for that I am grateful.
Recently, seeing photos of bears covered with blood from their prey, I was reminded of a story once told to me by a man who has lived near Churchill for many years. He has probably had more bear encounters than most bears have had seal dinners, but of all of those encounters, he said that only one of them was really frightening.
It was autumn and there had been snow but there wasn’t yet ice on the bay, so the bears were plentiful around town. The large male bear surprised him around the corner of his house. This bear was well-fed and had blood all over its fur, at a time when it could not have caught a seal in months. The only possible explanation was that it was a cannibal; it had become fat and bloody because it ate other bears. And because it was an outcast (and a psychopath, if such things exist among polar bears), it had even less respect for humans than the average bear has. It kept coming back, it seemed devious and evil, and eventually someone had to shoot it.
I find it hard to shake the image of that bear; perhaps the one positive aspect of the story is that in the polar bear’s world, the psychopaths are readily identifiable. It would certainly be easier for society if human psychopaths actually LOOKED bloody. While we do have laws that generally prevent the sort of treatment of other people that this bear was meting out on other bears, our treatment of some bears and many other relatively sentient animals still leaves a lot to be desired. Are we, in a sense, in the grip of a group mental disorder?
© Graham Young, 2011