The first time a fully grown, adult black bear suddenly appears along your path or bursts through your backyard, it can be an intimidating experience.
After all, this is a big and strong wild animal with fearsome claws, forceful jaws, and large teeth. However, rather than be fearful, it’s best to be cautious and respectful of the amazing creatures.
Unlike the sometimes-aggressive grizzly bears (which don’t live in Muskoka), black bears tend to be more scared of humans than we are of them, explains Mike McIntosh, founder and operator of the Bear With Us sanctuary.
Bear With Us has rehabilitated and released over 630 bears back into the wild since 1992.
Mike says it’s important to forget all the things that movies have taught humans over the years about bears: most of it is far from the truth. For example, bears don’t growl, despite the sound effects used by Hollywood.
Their actions and sounds are often an attempt at communication, Mike notes – only they don’t speak human, they speak bear. What is sometimes taken as attacking behaviour is usually just the bear being nervous.
“Bears make many other sounds, like moans, whines, clacking their teeth,” says Mike, who has worked with, rehabilitated and released bears for almost three decades. “Sometimes they’ll stomp their feet or do a bluff charge. This is the bear letting you know you’re too close.”
For those living in Muskoka and the surrounding areas, learning to co-exist with bears is essential to maintaining a good balance between man and nature, says Mike. You may live here for years without ever seeing one, but all of us need to be aware that we are sharing this space.
This means understanding that bears will travel up to 100 km in search of food. Although their diet consists mainly of roots, berries, meat, fish, insects, larvae, grass, and other plants, bears will eat whatever is available.
Should natural food sources be unavailable, bears will go looking for other options, including garbage cans, bird feeders, composters and other places often located near humans.
“Keeping your garbage, recycling and compost locked throughout the year, and putting away bird feeders during the summertime are good ways to prevent bears from being attracted to your property,” says Mike.
“Bears are intelligent creatures: once they find a food source, they’ll keep coming back until it’s gone. Bears should be eating from their natural diet, not human food, so by protecting your property, you’re protecting the bears as well.”
Despite the fact black bears are not aggressive, they’re still a wild animal and should be respected as such. If you happen to encounter a black bear, keep your distance, give them space, and let them do their bear thing.
Chances are you’ll end up with a great story to tell and have a new appreciation for one of Canada’s native creatures.
TEXT Chris Occhiuzzi