I Saw A Camper Kill A Bear Today

20 September 2012

I saw a camper kill a bear today.

He did not do it to protect his family, his pets, his friends, other humans, or even his material things.

He did not even do it with a weapon.

He did it with ignorance, thoughtlessness, and simple laziness.

The bear had become my friend... or at least my neighbor, as I had come camping to see such wonderful wildlife.

The bear was simply doing what I do, trying to survive. And he was starving.

The dry season made finding food very tough, but the worst part is that we campers taught the bear that there are other options, options that the bear may have missed if we had been more conscious of the consequences of our actions. If we had put our food away, the bear could not have gotten to it so easily, and he might have learned futility in that approach. Instead the bear found food out on tables, in boxes and bins just lying around.

And then there was our trash. We leave trash out, saying there's no real food here. But to a bear's sense of smell and taste, a wrapper is sustenance. Something it can put in its mouth.

I looked forward to seeing him each day. Though toward the end of the week and with the Labor Day weekend crowd, he was becoming more assertive. He was not threatening people directly, but he was being bold and not retreating. There was an easy cornucopia spread before him. To a starving bear easy food is an obvious choice. I simply was more vigilant and made sure I left nothing out that I was not directly using at the moment.

The bear's final death was at the hands of someone whose job, unfortunately, includes addressing behavior that does not work well for people. But it was not that officer who really killed the bear. It was us campers who left our food out, who left our trash out, who taught the bear different expectations and different behavior.

I cannot say that the bear might not have figured other things out that would have resulted in such assertiveness.

But I can say that we definitely trained the bear to identify our camps as easy sources of food. From there his death was inevitable, though all he was doing was trying to stay alive. If we teach the wildlife behavior that leads to conflict, we can be assured that there will be conflict. And it takes so little effort on our part to secure our food and trash. That bear did not have to die because of us campers.

I said my thanks to him and my good byes to him as his body was taken away.

I miss my friend.