Reportage: The creature in the wild

Text and photos by Sandra van Hoek

Over thousands of years, bears have been pointed out as dangerous beasts.
Meat eaters, ruthless, rampaging camps, backyards and homes only in search of food, killing everything that comes in their way. The coliseum in Rome most likely has a graveyard with hundreds if not thousands bone parts of large animals, including brown and black bears. Who at one point possibly staged a fight against one of the most highly educated men: the Gladiators as an entertainment sport for the public. Even the Norsemen often called “berserker” would dress in a bears fur in order to seem powerful and immortal, only provoking war on small villages onto innocent lives, thus making these villagers believe that bears are vicious creatures? Over centuries the bear in general has been pointed out only as this, nothing less or more. However, what if all this is misinformation to justify our actions and make people believe they can shoot an animal or lesser their behavior in which to run away and fear such an animal? What if this does not truly describe their social behavior? Or the facts that they tend to have the intelligence as some zookeepers are claiming of the great Ape?
I don’t think each human posesses the gift to communicate/sense with an animal, nor being able to feel their emotions of a wild animal. In part, we are becoming too consumed in our lives to even pay attention to the behavior and antics and what they truly interpret of any animal. But this is exactly that. While I did not anticipate a black visitor this last summer, it was an extraordinary moment between two living things on this planet. The respect, patience and acceptance of one another, without either one feeling in danger or a threat, made this possible to come this close to a wild black bear. Admit tingly I do live in the forest of New Hampshire (USA) which gives me opportunities often not given in more rural areas or where these bears do not exist. Thus, I tend to let the animals come to me, instead hunting them down like some wild scavenger in the deep forest. Feeding is also a sensitive issue, as having given him peanuts on several occasions, I feel it is not a good example nor human food the best natural diet any animal should consume. It’s not so much to say, that they become dependent on our feeding frenzy, but rather they become bait and easy prey for licensed/poachers hunters whom often feed bears to trap them in order to shoot the animal or people not
seeing nor sensing the so called boundary each living species has around them. Which by the way, we humans also have. Eventually an animal does tend to attack if a human crosses this so called “radius” around them. We can easily ask ourselves; would you enjoy others meddling and coming too close into your personal life, deciding and harassing you? Only for you to endure all this without acting on it? One can abide this rule to each living “thing” easily and this includes a bear.

That said, how would an animal for instance survive. If humans encroach and take away their natural food source for our own survival, only for the animal to be forced to locate the honey or corn in the fields that we in turn are dependent on likewise and eventually kill the bear because we feel threatened by it, as he can no longer find nor seek what they should be consuming in the wild. The so-called cycle is broken on the planet and sadly this had been going on for a very long time from all aspects. Because, each of us uses a plane, which in turn needs fuel. Again the fuel being harvested possibly in protected nature areas, just to reach our destination. We drive a vehicle and continue to exploit without even knowing or sensing. A total chain reaction in which each of us is involved.

On a hot summer day, as I was sitting outside in the morning hours. Enjoying my cup of coffee, when the bear came walking right up to the house. Which by the way, he had been doing so for the past weeks. A young bear with some behavioral problems I assumed, as usually they tend to learn from their mothers, right from wrong and being educated to fear humans. However, there was no mother bear anywhere to be seen. On several occasions he would try to get into the chicken coop or play with the doorbell of the house, using his front paws, while standing on his back legs so humanlike, it reminded me of a Mike Tyson training for the big game.  Boredom and curiosity obviously won and I could not help but sit nearby on a tree stump with my camera at hand on a constant basis, making sure he would not try anything more ridiculous. Trying to get closer meant he would attempt to climb a tree out of fear I would get too close and cause him harm, natural instinct kicking in, as it seemed he even could understand the tone of my voice. Crawling up several meters onto a pine tree, only realizing I was still on the same spot
as before, he would slide back down with his plump bum onto the ground. Hide and peek around the tree, looking where I was and what I’d do next. Eventually after 30 min. he would go about his curiosity of exploration while keeping a comfortable distance from me by giving him the choice of distance between the two of us. Sometimes he would even visit during heavy rains, sitting nearby a tree, licking off the wet substance from his snout and fur and continue his route further deep into the forest only to reappear the following day. Slurping from the Pond filled with water, we created nearby on our private property.

On a different occasion he would be so warm and dehydrated he actually went under the water hose to cool off. But mostly we both would just sit there, keeping our invisible distance and he’d do his thing, from scratching his ears and tummy, to him being bitten by mosquitoes and lashing out around himself towards invisible midgets, just like what a human would do. Giving me rather the chance to show a bear for a short moment, that is in fact harmless and content and more respectful towards humans then previously assumed. That if you give him the space and the natural source they need. There is in fact no danger to be considered. Animals, in particular bears were not created on this earth, to be
hunted by humans nor them attacking us on constant basis. The meat needs to be processed in ways not typical to regular livestock meat. Each year hundreds of bears become victims to poaching, due to Gallbladders and fur. A bear paw can legally be sold in NH for several hundred dollars. Roads that cause collisions in which several people this year alone already were killed due to bears crossing the roads. With their excellent memory, having one bad experience with one single human can cause any bear to become weary and distrusting towards every human. Overall I’m not a licensed Bear expert but one does not need to be in order to understand or have compassion. It entirely depends on our concept and how we are able to interact with nature and her creatures. But most importantly, attempting to appreciate their body language and their needs and understanding that we actually do not need to destroy nor force something on such majestic creature in the wild.

At time of publishing Sandra informed us she was afraid this one particular bear has been shot and is no longer with us. “We had some target shooting and hunting season and suddenly stopped coming. I am hoping he managed to find a good place in the forest.  Only spring will tell..”

Sandra van Hoek is a nature photographer originally from Germany and currently residing in New Hampshire and out West of the US whenever possible. She’s traveled to the Arctic in hopes of catching a glimpse of Polar bears at Churchill Canada and traveled around the globe to Kamchatka, Russia. Scaling active volcanoes and wandering between brown bears. Visited many national parks within North America and travelled throughout Europe. Her images have been presented in National Geographic, Nature’s best photograph magazine online, Wilderness Society and Merzeta online.

More of Sandra`s work HERE

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