Not Unbearable

An experienced guide can help spot bears
Bears blend into the landscape and are not easy to spot

You don’t have to go to Africa to go on safari. In fact, there aren’t bears in Africa and getting up close to watch bears is as fascinating as watching the best African game.

You can see bears in season up close and personal in some places along the U.S. northern border and north from there to Alaska. In many of the national parks you can arrange to go on what in Africa would be called a safari to see these interesting animals.

There are many kinds of bears. Black bears and brown bears are the ones you will most likely see in these parts. They look so cuddly, but both are highly dangerous. Our relationship with bears is conflicted: every now and then you read stories about bears mauling someone at a zoo, yet we give stuffed animals in the shape of bears to children.

My recent post about going to Chengdu, China, to see panda bears was especially popular, mainly because the panda bears are so cute.

When you want to see the bears, you have choices to make. You can learn about them and go on your own to seek them out. If you are camping out and don’t observe correct precautions, you may be surprised by an unwanted bear visit.

You can go with a ranger or private guide on a walking tour to see bears. You can also go to view the bears from the comfort of a jeep or other four-wheel vehicle.

When I was in Africa seeking lions and similar fast-charging animals, I was comforted by the fact that safaris are usually done in convoys of more than one car. Also, the professionals leading the safari, usually the jeep drivers, carried ries. Fortunately, they didn’t need to use them. Same as in Africa, if one driver spots what we’re looking for, there is either walkie-talkie or cellphone contact with the other drivers. This increases the chances of seeing what we all came to see, but there is safety, too, in numbers. Each guide is trained on how to respond in the event something goes terribly wrong, and they would all respond. For these reasons, I recommend the vehicle-based safari as the best option.

Despite the safety of the vehicle, when I was in Africa, I regularly saw photographers get out to catch a “perfect” picture. I know from speaking to the drivers that sometimes this did not end well. If you want to live to tell your tale, stay in the vehicle.

The easiest place to go on a bear safari is starting in Vancouver, Canada. Many companies there specialize in this, and it is easy to get to Vancouver.

I chose to book a bear safari with a company out of Whistler, Canada, about two hours north of Vancouver. The company has exclusive access to a gated, forested area that is normally used to train Canadian winter Olympians but is known to be the home of several bears.

It helps to have guides that have studied the bears’ patterns and know their hideouts. From even the slightest distance, bears easily blend into the surrounding colors of the trees making it difficult for the untrained eye to spot them.

Understanding the bears’ eating patterns is important. Chances of seeing wildlife increase if you look for them where and when they normally hunt for food. In the case of bears, they love salmon. Your guide will know when the salmon are running in the local waters.

Seeing a bear up close is exhilarating. Our jeep got within 15 feet of a bear, close enough to hear the bear breathing.

I highly recommend a bear safari. Just do it safely.

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