Please don’t cuddle the wild animals!

A funny thing happened the other day. I went into a building with a sign outside reading “Library” – curious and not knowing what it was.

I learned something.  It seems that a “Library” is a museum of old books and magazines, those strange paper things people used during the pre-Internet era of human history.

Browsing through the old magazines, I stumbled upon a magazine called Canadian Geographic.  In it was an article entitled “Please don’t cuddle the wild animals!”  Though an old article, the issues it talks about are timeless – the balance between man and wildlife.

bighorn sheep canadian geographic
Bighorn sheep crowd a car on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park – picture of a Canadian Geographic magazine from about 1980 (click picture to enlarge)

Canadian Geographic has written lots of articles about Canadian destinations over the years, including Jasper, Banff and the Canadian Rockies. This article stood out as I’ve written about Jasper National Park wildlife many times.

The Canadian Geographic article is from around 1980.  At the time, Canadian national park tourists were  getting too close to the wildlife in the parks and the article was about finding the balance. The lessons of wildlife management were still being learned at the time but had significantly improved from 50 years prior.

In 1980, it had only been a short time since bear-proof garbage cans had been introduced.  However, many tourists still saw the bear as a cute and cuddly real-life Yogi Bear who wanted a snack from the picnic basket.

Almost 30 years later, conditions have improved. Parks Canada continually operates wildlife management programs and has implemented many new techniques over the years.  In Jasper National Park, signs and literature educate visitors about keeping a safe distance from the wild animals.  No cuddling!

Nowadays, the latest populations of bears are unaware of the yummies inside garbage cans.   They’ve never been able to get inside one.  It seems as if every single garbage can inside Jasper National Park is bear-proof – and even somewhat human-proof.  Heck, even the residents in Jasper townsite do the right thing when it comes to managing their garbage to keep the bears and even those scavenging coyotes away.

Achieving the perfect balance is still a long ways away but the park is headed in the right direction.

The 1980 Canadian Geographic article also talks about the park service using guns with rubber bullets as a way to keep the bears away when the bears get too close to humans and are hanging out near campgrounds and attractions.  The rubber bullets are meant to give the bears a fear of humans in the safest way possible.

Today, rubber bullets are still tools of the trade for the park management team.  Here is an article by Parks Canada on how it has had to manage two female grizzly bears in the Icefields Parkways region of Jasper National Park.

Parks Canada writes their modern account of the challenges of humans cuddling the wildlife, in this case, two grizzlies.

  • Their stories help explain why you might see a bear roadside and how this willingness to tolerate people puts them at risk of losing the wary behaviour they need to survive. The best thing you can do for a roadside bear is to drive by carefully.”

The moral of the story in 1980 is the same as it is in 2008:  Please don’t cuddle the wild animals.  It is the only way to help maintain the proper balance between man and wildlife.

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