What comes to mind when you think about a polar bear? Smart? Bears are known to be very smart with a long memory. Large? Females are about 600 pounds while males are typically around 1200 pounds. Dangerous? They will maul and kill you if they feel you are in any way a threat. Cute? Their expressions and white fur make them one of the cutest and cuddliest animals. Dangerous and cute, a delicious combination that we remained cognizant of during our three days communing with polar bears.
Polar Bears are Dangerous
Let’s start with dangerous. Just look at the photo above. Do they look dangerous to you? To give you an idea of the danger that exists, our four guides each carried a 12 gauge Remington 870 shotgun. Even with these shotguns present, we were not allowed to be closer than 200 feet to the nearest polar bear. It’s hard to get a close, intimate photo of a polar bear from that distance.
We were out for an afternoon group walk, sixteen guests and four guides. If we encounter a bear all of the guests must line up, making us look like a very wide, short animal (I fit right in!). Not long into out walk we came across a mom and her cubs. I watched but did not bother taking any photographs, too far away. Then a curious cub noticed us and started his approach. Click, click, click went all our cameras. Within seconds three of our guides took a position between us and the cute cub. Darn it, I am now blocked by a guard with a a gun. I figure if I kneel and move a little to the right I can get some awesome photos of the cub approaching. The fourth guard who was behind us, watching our backs, admonished me. Back in line I went.
The cub kept coming, obviously our fake short wide animal did nothing to deter its curiosity. This cub is cute and very photogenic but also extremely dangerous (and over 400 pounds). Time for the guards to take over. First they talked to the cub hoping it would turn back to mama, “hey little guy, what did you do this morning?” Their words and gentle tone didn’t frighten me and certainly not the cub. He kept coming, only 100 feet away.
Next the guides tried banging two golf ball sized rocks together hoping the sharp sound would send the little guy back. I guess the banging rocks is supposed to sound like a gun. Nope, it sounded like two golf ball sized rocks banging together. I wouldn’t be fooled and neither was the cub. He kept coming, only 50 feet away. I have to admit I was starting to become concerned. I had to fight the instinct to run. If I run, I look like food. And, the cub is way faster than me.
I know the guides do not want to fire their weapons but I could tell this was becoming a distinct possibility. I know the cub is cute and curious but it is still 400 pounds of wild animal. It must be taken seriously. The cub kept coming, now just 30 feet from us. Oh, I have a camera in my hands, I should be taking pictures instead of figuring out a way to escape. My camera is now firing away, rapid-fire. Maybe the cub would think it is a machine gun firing and slink back to its mom. Nope. Its curiosity is definitely getting the best of him.
I can tell the guides are now very concerned. Then the guide did something I did not expect. No gun was raised. The guide closest to me threw one of the tiny rocks at the cub, bouncing off the ground and striking its nose. It was a perfect doosra from my new bowler friend! The cub turned and hightailed it away to the protection of its mom.
Polar Bears are Cute
After our close call with the cute cub, Kathryn and I decided not to go on the next afternoons walking expedition. Instead we set up on a viewing platform in the back of the lodge where there were five bears taking an afternoon siesta in the tall grass. And there is a fence between us and the bears. So, we stood on the viewing platform enjoying the relatively warm sun on our backs and watched, and waited. An hour passed with no movement from the bears. Perhaps we should have gone on that walk afterall. Then the most amazing thing happened. A female cub, an only child, walked toward us and stopped in a small clearing. This alone is not amazing whatsoever. What was amazing was the mother bear made its way to the clearing, joining in a lovefest with its daughter. For twenty minutes the two bears hugged, nuzzled and frolicked. I took over one thousand photos!
There must be a moral to this story. Take a walk in the wild and risk your life versus staying safe, behind a fence and getting great photographs? Or, it could be a simple as nature is unpredictable so enjoy it when you can. Regardless, communing with the polar bears was a truly awesome experience.