People seem to have an insatiable appetite for stories of animal encounters on the Island and across B.C. And those stories are likely to become more frequent as wired humans continue to expand into animal habitat.
Ask practically any reporter in the province, except maybe in the Vancouver area, and they’re likely to have written a story involving some wild animal – probably based on footage posted to social media – which instantly shot to the top of the “most read” list online.
Readers revel in the cuteness/weirdness/horror of the nature scene.
In my first six weeks as a reporter at the Mirror, the story that garnered the most attention was probably the one about the harbour seal that escaped hungry orcas by hopping on a boat. There was smartphone video footage, and people loved it.
We also have examples like Hammy, the deer whose antlers became enmeshed in a purple hammock. The buck was photographed wearing the tangle of strings like a hat, and became an “Internet sensation.”
When I was growing up, seeing multiple bears by the side of the road to Tofino didn’t seem that unusual.
Now I get a special satisfaction in telling people from Central Europe or urbanized parts of Eastern Canada about the time I witnessed a full-grown black bear trying to kill a cub near Slocan, in the Kootenays. That usually freaks people out.
The offending bear was high in an old pine tree, clutching the trunk and roaring so loudly that I could feel it in my gut from a distance. The cub was out on a limb of the tree, trying to escape certain death.
I’m pretty sure the cub escaped, based on the lack of any sign of struggle on the ground later on, although I didn’t hang around to watch how that scenario ended.
That was in 2003, before smartphones, Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure the scene would have gone viral.
Encounters with wild animals fascinate people, maybe because they reflect something untamed in ourselves.
I remember going camping with my family when I was a kid. We went to a presentation by a park ranger about cougars, and how they stalk their prey.
We walked back to the campsite in the dark, and I remember feeling a presence in the bushes, although it was probably just the figment of a child’s imagination: something wild and deadly in the night.
This kind of thing sparks the imagination. So it’s not surprising that people want to see the drama unfold when someone gets good footage on their mobile device.
Recently, I interviewed James Hilgemann, a conservation officer based in Black Creek. Their hotline – called Report All Poachers and Polluters, or RAPP – has “really exploded,” he said.
“You might have 1,200 complaints for human-wildlife conflict throughout the year.”
Asked why it’s exploding, he attributed the change largely to social media and cellphones, along with the signs publicizing RAPP on the highways.
“Everybody’s talking,” he said. “Everybody’s got a cellphone now.”
But there are other dynamics at play, he said.
Deer enter towns because they feel safer from predators than in the woods.
They’re followed by cougars.
Meanwhile bears are attracted by our garbage and fruit trees.
It’s a result of growing human settlements affecting the surrounding natural world, according to Hilgemann.
“We’re encroaching on their habitat,” he said.
With mobile technology and sprawling settlement in the hinterlands, it looks like this interface with the natural environment will be a well-documented one. Watch for more wildlife stories, and please do send us your clips.