Blitz Magazine, September 2002
If you talk to the animals, they will talk to you, and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them, you will not know them, and what you do not know
you will fear.
What one fears, one destroys.
Chief Dan George
Bears have one enemy—humans. Human ignorance has always been their greatest threat. There are still men in Asia who believe that ingesting bear parts improves virility, which is why, in a scenario too horrible to imagine, Black Bears are permanently caged. In Europe, it’s still the dream of many to trek into the Canadian wilderness to shoot bears. Just for the manly-man thrill of it.
The world has eight bear species: the Spectacled Bear of South America, which is considered a pest; the Sloth Bear of the Asian subcontinent (numbers unknown); the Black Bear; the Sun Bear of southeast Asia (the smallest); the Panda, which is nearing extinction, and the three North American bears: the Polar Bear (the world’s largest land predator), the Black Bear and the Grizzly, or Brown, Bear (listed as Threatened).
For centuries, bears have been misunderstood and persecuted (the tide began to turn when Theodore Roosevelt spared a cub while hunting—hence the Teddy bear). People have always been terrified of bears. But bear attacks on humans are rare. When they do occur, the bears aren’t to blame. They do not seek human contact; they seek food (except the Polar Bear, to which all things are food. If you see one, run).
Over-development has led to loss of habitat and, with eco-tourism, more tourists come across bears in the wild. People become afraid, bears get shot. Global Warming is causing such drastic climate changes that food supplies are disrupted, bringing more bears into populated areas. Because of reduced ice floes, which Polar Bears need for seal hunting, their weight and reproductive levels have dropped. ‘Not good. As an Umbrella Species, bears control moose, caribou and deer populations, thus helping protect lynx, wolverine and wolves—and all plants and animals that depend on them. Bears are, therefore, essential to the health and balance of the wild places they inhabit.
In the US, unchecked hunting, trapping and development has eliminated Grizzlies from 98% of their range and reduced their numbers from 50,000 to 1,000. The National Wildlife Federation is working to restore bears to Montana and Idaho (opposed, of course, by special interest groups and Dubya). To help the process, the NWF has invested significant funds in large-format film production, believing that films are one of the best ways to educate people and inspire them to take action.
The NWF’s latest release, Bears, was shot in one of the few places where Grizzly populations are stable—Alaska’s Katmai National Park, home to 2,000 Grizzlies. The theme of Bears, which was co-produced by Primesco and Ontario’s Science North, and directed by Science North’s David Lickley, is survival. The film, offered in 400-foot surround-sound glory, with music by Lyle Lovett, blends education and entertainment, illustrating that bears are the spirit of the wilderness and that they have the right to live, unharrassed, in fully-functioning ecosystems.