Alberta Parks officials are investigating after video posted to social media shows a bear swatting at a person photographing the animal in its den.
It’s the time of year when bears are beginning to emerge from their winter slumber. Some are making their way through residential communities and parks.
“We had a grizzly bear walking through Canmore and it’s still in the vicinity right now. He was just on the periphery of town and up at the Canmore Nordic Center,” said John Paczkowski, human-wildlife coexistence team lead with Alberta Parks in Canmore.
While seeing bears out and about isn’t that uncommon, what is rare, according to Paczkowski, is encountering them in their dens.
In video posted to social media recently, a person goes up to a bear’s den and waits for a reaction.
In the video, the bear’s paw can be seen swatting at the photographer, who then turns and runs away.
“Someone who is approaching or entering a den is certainly putting themselves at greater risk of being attacked or interacting with the bear. It might defend its den. We don’t know if that bear had cubs in the den,” Paczkowski said.
Alberta Parks minister Jason Nixon posted to social media, saying: “Recently an ‘an influencer in the wild’ decided to be a bad influence, posting video approaching a bear den, resulting in the bear swatting at them.'”
Alberta Parks officials are investigating to find out if it took place in Alberta and who shot it.
“If you look at it from the bear’s point of view, that is a bear that is scared,” said Kevin Van Tighem from his home in Canmore. “It’s cornered and it’s striking out in fear. None of that needed to happen if the photographer would’ve shown respect and left it alone.”
Van Tighem is a former Banff National Park superintendent and author of Bears Without Fear.
“That bear has now had a very stressful experience with human beings there’s no question that it smelled them and saw them. It’s going to remember that. It carries that forward in its life.
“It’s potentially more dangerous and potentially more a hazard because its behaviour can get it into trouble,” Van Tighem said.
Paczkowski says denning is a critical time for bears and disturbing them can harm their health.
“It just decreases their fitness. They are really dependent on making sure they have enough calories to get through the year, so they don’t need to be unnecessarily burning off calories because of some sort of human disturbance.
“The bears don’t need the extra agitation. They are kind of running on empty at that point. They just survived four or five months in the den,” Packowski said.
Under the Wildlife Act in Alberta, a person can be charged for disturbing wildlife.
Global News has tried to contact the person who took the video but has not received a response.
Van Tighem said, from his experience working in Banff National Park, people are generally well behaved when they see bears by the side of the highway.
He called the actions of the person who shot the video “unfortunate.”
“One thing I’ve noticed is that at most of these bear jams, people behave themselves. They stay in their vehicles. They don’t push the bear. So I think most people have come a long way,” Van Tighem said.
“But there are always these naïve people who put their egos first and unfortunately that’s where things can go sideways in bear country.”