I donít know about you, but after this weekís news of the now-famous hot-tub attack Iím suddenly not as excited as usual to see Whistlerís magnificent black bear residents.
And maybe thatís not a bad thing.
Iíve been dismayed since the news broke on Monday, chatting with anyone and everyone about the strange encounter and trying to figure out why the untagged, adult male would swipe a man in the head, apparently unprovoked and with no obvious attractants around.
The whole thing just doesnít add up with my experience living in black bear country and reporting on the animals for several years. Suddenly, my typical speal to visitors about how Whistlerís black bears arenít dangerous ó†as long as you keep your distance, respect the animalsí space and donít do anything stupid ó no longer rings true.
When you think about the implications for daily life in Whistler, the whole thing gets even more unnerving. Whoís going to watch your back next time youíre strolling along the Valley Trail or around Lost Lake to make sure no black bears are coming up quietly from behind to take you down with one swipe of a big, sharp paw?
Many Whistlerites are often in circumstances in which our backs are turned to patches of wilderness, which is just how the hot tub victim was relaxing when struck suddenly from behind, and itís not always an avoidable position.
And just to clear things up for all the internet pundits out there from across Canada and beyond, this didnít happen ďway out in the woodsĒ as some of you have speculated. Weíre talking a five-minute walk or so from the Village.
This was obviously a rare incident ó Iíve never heard of anything quite like it in Whistlerís history ó but the fact that thereís so far no rhyme or reason is what makes it unsettling.
Until now, Iíve lived with a pretty clear set of ďrulesĒ on how not to get in conflict with Whistlerís bears. But it seems there was nothing this man could have done to prevent being swatted, save from sitting in a different spot in the tub. (Iím not sure you can turn that into a ďlessonĒ for peacefully cohabitating with bears.)
Hopefully the ongoing investigation will result in some kind of resolution, so weíre not all left feeling betrayed by our usually peaceful bears.
So far, I am leaning towards the speculation that perhaps from the bearís perspective all that was visible was the manís head and the animal didnít realize it was a much larger creature than what it could see. And maybe, just maybe, the swipe of its paw was more of an exploration than an attack.
That doesnít really explain the bear pacing outside the sliding door afterwards, but for now Iím willing to give the animal the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the day, it seems that some black bears can be predatory. And maybe thatís a reality we all need to come to terms with in Whistler.
Iím as guilty as the next guy/girl for hoping to spot a bear or two and be able to watch the beautiful, awe-inspiring creatures and maybe even capture a photo or two ó†from a safe distance, of course.
But Sundayís incident is an important reminder that Whistlerís bears are not mascots or pets ó†they are wild, unpredictable animals that can, in fact, be very dangerous.
Hopefully the positive outcome to all this will be fewer people pulling over on the highway to watch bears and in general keeping a more respectful, healthy distance.
ó Jennifer Miller