Welcome to our ranch near Canada's west coast in Beautiful British Columbia's West Chilcotin mountain region. Where calling the vet means hollering back at the house to bring your kit, new friendships are formed from the back of a horse and true fun for a five year old is getting a machete for Christmas. Where 'cutting the dinks off' has a totally different meaning than what first comes to mind, Muck Boots are a household name, a hand shake still means something and the coffee is always on.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

The Bear Story

So I wrote this several days ago, and have come back for a proof read before sending it out.  I know that wild animal/domestic animal conflicts have been a 'hot' topic, and I have no desire to resurrect any well hammered debate or initiate anything but friendly conversation.  My intention with this blog saga was to 'tell it like it is', and shed a bit more light on the ranching industry and our beautiful piece of British Columbia.  I feel that the more information that is available via real people (as opposed to media with an agenda), the better for everyone.  Our industry included.  We get such a bad rap sometimes, it drives me crazy.  Despite popular belief, not all ranchers and guides 'shoot everything they see'.  In fact, quite the opposite.  When we see the caribou racing down the flat, we all stand up to watch and wonder.  No one even thinks about a gun.  When we come to a cow and calf moose on a slippery icy road, we slow right down and back off to make sure they can find a good exit and not be too pressured.  Hay bales are left out in the winter, specifically to deter mommas and babies from being on the road, or foraging out where they are easy pickings for the wolves.  No self respecting outdoorsman would think of harming mother with young babies, be it a grouse or a deer.  A couple of friends of mine just commented the other day about watching 2 black bears enjoy the new green grass in their fields.    
Having said all that,  ranching in our piece of beautiful British Columbia also includes dealings with predators, including wolves and bears.  And there has to be a balance.  I'm a bit apprehensive about putting a post like this out.  Not because I'm even slightly uncomfortable about our life and lifestyle, but because I'm more of a 'hands on storyteller' than a debater.  So to those that want to get fired up about events I'm about to describe,  "come on out" I say!  Get your gumboots, and maybe some gloves (some Vicks for your nose?) and help us skin this cow out.  We will reminisce about what a good mother she was as we take short breaths and examine the shocking and massive  trauma to her body.  We will remember how willingly she took on the orphaned baby this spring, who is now a bag of bones and dried hide.  We probably won't even mention both the short and long term cost of this night's bear play because we will be too busy trying to both keep our heads up for danger (where IS that bear?) and down to read the signs.  When the dog barks, we'll both jump and nervously laugh at our pounding hearts.  If you do want a debate, I'll hook you up with my neighbor, who has a much sharper tongue and quicker wit than I do.  If you want to just hear the rest of the story, stick with me here.      

First, I want to say that what I am describing to you is fairly unusual behavior for a bear, and we have not had problems like this for quite a few years.  (Other areas have.)  There are black and grizzly bears out here, always have been, and generally they mind their own business and leave the cattle alone.  (We have had significant wolf problems over the last few years, but not bear so much.)  I am always very comfortable riding by myself and have never had a scary or worrisome incident to do with a bear.   (Knock on wood.)   Part of the reason for this is that, out here, the bears are still 'wild'.  If you do see a bear, it's usually his hind end as he races out of sight.  This is not the case everywhere (such as Bella Coola, where they wander through mowed lawns and destroy fruit trees only meters from your front door), but our bears do not associate humans with food at all.  Certainly no one feeds them (by choice or by garbage) and they still have a healthy respect for humans.  Which is how it should be....keeps everyone safe.

Usually this is the only sign I find of bears!  

Most of the local ranchers took a verification course several years ago.  The course goes in to great depth about how to tell a) IF it was killed by an animal (or died of sickness or other event and then was eaten on later) and b) what the animal most likely was (cougar, bear and wolves all attack very differently and distinctly).  
When we reported the first calf, there happened to be a Conservation Officer nearby.   The calf also happened to be accessible by quad,  and the officer came out and confirmed, as we had thought, that the calf had been killed by a bear.  A young black bear was the educated guess, who had probably been run off by the mother cow.  (I did eventually find her, alive and well.)  We all crossed our fingers that it was an isolated event.  Calves and yearlings can really put themselves in to stupidly dangerous situations....it's not just the cat that curiosity killed.
So that was Wednesday that I found that calf.  
Over the weekend I did another shoeing trip to Bella Coola. 

My friend Lorri taking her turn at the barrel race at the gymkana in Bella Coola.  

When I got back, I had a message from our friends and neighbors, Henry and Aileen, that some of our cows had gotten into one of their pastures.  Mum and I saddled up and headed over there Monday morning and sorted our cattle off.  We could see another bovine way across the pasture and it didn't look good.  Cows generally don't spend much time all by themselves and this one wasn't moving at all.  
We rode closer and sure enough, four feet were sticking in the air.  :(  There were absolutely no marks to be seen on the cow and our first thought was that she had gotten on her back and died.  
We finished moving our cows and, as we rode back to recruit some help, Henry and Aileen rode up.  We then skinned out the cow to get a better picture of the story.  And it immediately became very obvious that she had most certainly not died from 'natural causes'.  In fact, it looked like she had been hit by a freight train or beat with a baseball bat wielded by a Sasquatch.  It had happened between about 10pm Saturday, and 11am Sunday, and we found her on Monday.  (We know the time as Aileen and her sister had been fencing in the area.)  All the sign most definitely pointed towards a bear (verified by three qualified people), including the body area damaged and the trauma inflicted.  The strange part is that the bear had not been back to claim or eat on his kill at all.  Very very odd.  Bears just don't leave their kill untouched.  If nothing else, they bury it to come back later and certainly would not leave it out in the open.  It also seemed very strange that there were really no signs of struggle on the ground...you would expect to see all sorts of torn up earth.  Aliens were suspected.  We watched closely for Sasquatch sign, or the baseball bat.  We ruled out the freight train as the nearest one is 200 miles away.  It was a bear....but where was he?  (Or she?)      

Ting peaking in to my photo...

We called the incident in to the Conservation Officers and had an extended conversation with a man very well respected and well known in predator control.  We sent photos and described everything as well as we could.  He agreed that the kill most certainly sounded like a bear but was also puzzled by the fact that the carcass was untouched.  There was nothing to do but wait and see.    
(Am I going to give you nightmares?  I sure don't mean to, but if I am to keep this saga 'real', then this is 'really' what we are dealing with at the moment.)
The next day, the cow was still untouched by anything besides birds.  Aileen and I flew with my older brother (or rather, sat in the plane as he flew it) and didn't really see much.  We were both happy to get back on our horses (which are plenty high enough off the ground for me!) and were a bit relieved when Henry decided to join us as well.  Long story short, we found the calf of the dead cow.  In  much the same state as the cow, except a wolf had been enjoying the free dinner.  And here, less than 1/2 a mile from the cow, the story started to come together.  And yes, the calf had certainly been killed by the bear, not the wolf, and definitely not died from sickness etc.  The claw/bite marks across the withers, bruising around the neck and clear bites and bruising to the face/nose area told everything we needed to know.  Poor little Peanut, we grafted that calf on to that momma this spring!!  

So the story as we have pieced together.
The bear attacked the calf, perhaps out of it's own stupidity in getting too close, or perhaps as a follow up to the first one he killed.  (I am sure we are not so unlucky as to have two bears working us over!)  As he mortally wounded the calf, momma cow came charging to the rescue and an amazing fight took place.  The cow was an older animal and probably one of our biggest, and they certainly tore up some earth.  There is a little slough near where were found the calf, and the grass is fairly flattened through and near it.   The end result, as we can tell, is that the cow ended up getting away, but dying from her injuries where we found her.  And, we are thinking, that the bear did not fair well in the fight either, and that is why he has not been back to claim either of his kills.  So he is either laid up somewhere, healing up, or perhaps the stinker expired too.  One can only hope. 
We have all been riding more than usual, and there is simply no sign of the bear around, and he has not once been back to his kills.  (I'm using 'he' generally, could easily be a sow.)

I'm not adding photos of the kills directly on to this post as they are quite graphic.  I'm not writing this for shock value.    
 I will put the photos on another post, mark it clearly and you can choose whether or not to open it.  I'll send it tomorrow, so if you are someone that gets these posts by email, and you do not want to see the photos, then just delete the next one.  They are interesting and you'll understand why there is no question about if the animals "died naturally", but I have no desire to force you to see them either.  This 'ranching in the wilderness' business is not always pretty.

As Always,

PS....still no sign of the bear....perhaps old momma cow really did serve up a side of justice!  



Unknown said...

Great post! Very interesting. Thanks!

kolea said...

An excellent and I think balanced description of the predator issues. I thank you. I hope you find that bear dead soon.