Leon Lorenz had filmed her before, her smooth black and white grizzly fur a notable gem in his wildlife repertoire.
But he’d never been as close to the full-grown bear as he was last Monday around 7 p.m. when the light in British Columbia’s Robson Valley was perfect and the terrain so smooth he could walk silently between the trees.
“I remember telling myself I would be surprised if I wouldn’t see a grizzly,” he said from his home office in Dunster, B.C.
There she stood, about 25 yards away from him, her back turned as she grazed on some food. Her two-year-old cub lingered nearby.
In a flash, that second of serenity became a moment of terror when the grizzly bear turned and bounded straight toward him, the veteran wildlife filmmaker narrowly escaping death at the hands of one of his most beautiful subjects.
There has been a bit of criticism of Lorenz, that he had been reckless in getting too close to the bear, but he isn’t the first photographer to get up close and personal with wildlife in order to get that perfect picture and he certainly won’t be the last.
But they do risk their lives in doing so and they put the bears’ lives in danger as well.
Two cases that I recall reading about many years ago had to do with a photographer filming bears feeding on salmon in Alaska and a man in Montana who spotted a grizzly sow with two cubs and went after them to get pictures on his 35mm camera. Both of these cases turned out tragically.
The photographer in Alaska left a detailed record on his movie camera which showed an obviously disturbed grizzly that showed all kinds of evidence that he was not happy with the fellow’s presence, until the point that he turned and made one deliberate, fatal charge.
In the Montana incident, as I recall, the man and his wife were out in the mountains and were heading back to the truck near the end of the day, when he spotted the sow with her two cubs. He told his wife to go ahead and he went back to see if he could get some pictures and never returned. The developed film from his camera showed shots of the sow and cubs progressively coming closer to him. Obviously they didn’t stop coming.
Then of course there was the well publicized case of Timothy Treadwell in Alaska (although not photography related) who believed that he could live safely alongside of the bears in the area and did so for some time until he crossed paths with a grizzly in a poor frame of mind ending up with Treadwell’s death as well as that of his girl friend.
All of which only goes to show that you don’t mess around with grizzly bears and that goes in spades for mother bears with cubs. Hell you don’t even mess with black bears, as every once in while you get to meet one that doesn’t live up to the species’ “shy” reputation. In the scheme of things it may not happen often, but when it does you want to be prepared for the worst.
Actually, the first thought that went through my mind on this story wasn’t “wow, the guy got charged by a grizzly!” My first reaction was, “Wow, does this guy have a handgun carry permit?”
Now those babies aren’t easy to come by, although people working at some jobs can apply for and get a permit to carry a handgun in the backcountry. I hope this fellow had one because with all of the subsequent publicity, if he didn’t he is probably in serious crap.
The fact is, wilderness carry permits for handguns should be available to most people accessing the backcountry, not just commercial operators. And to take it a step further, you should have the legal opportunity to hunt with a handgun, none of which will ever happen unless we can get a groundswell of political activism from gun owners. And good luck with that.
Regardless, I hope the photographer had a wilderness carry permit and is able to continue to carry it as a survival tool as he goes about his business.