A Grizzly Encounter!

Melissa Gibbons
Resource Management & Public Safety Specialist, Wapusk National Park & Manitoba North National Historic Sites

Grizzly Bear in Wapusk National Park Grizzly Bear in Wapusk National Park
© Linda Gormezano / 2008

Barren-ground grizzly bears were thought to have disappeared from Manitoba for many years. However, over the last 10 years or so, there have been several confirmed sighting of this animal within Wapusk National Park. More frequent observations of the grizzly bear in northern Manitoba may simply be due to the fact that there are more people out looking, or it could point to a more permanent increase in the species’ range. In 2009, there were several sightings of black bears in the York Factory and Churchill region, suggesting that these two species may be extending their natural range, or perhaps simply taking advantage of the available habitat.

Since the establishment of the park, there have been 11 separate sightings of grizzly bears, and an additional sighting in 2009 east of the Town of Churchill.

It is evident from the increase in both grizzly and black bear sightings, that additional monitoring is important to determine whether these species are simply accidental visitors, or extending their range. In 2004, I was lucky enough to observe a barren-ground grizzly up close. Here is an excerpt from the article published in our office newsletter.

Set the Scene ... Wapusk National Park, Broad River area… July 6, 2004 … 23:30 hours

Three tired campers had just settled in for a much-needed sleep. It was our last evening in the park, and we had most of our gear packed and ready. The alarm fence was on, the shotgun was ready and we were all tucked in our sleeping bags. I hear a thump... there’s something out there. I crawled out of bed, put on my glasses and stand near the door listening... nothing. I peeked out the corner of the door. Yup, it’s a bear bum!

I grab the shotgun and an air horn. Open the door and the bear is about ten feet from the cabin, walking beside the (broken) fence. The bear turns and looks at us, we look at him; that is definitely not a polar bear. His colouring is pale brown - almost a cinnamon colour, and his legs are darker brown. His snout is short and his face is wide, not the regal face of a polar bear. He has a huge ruff of fur around his (short) neck, with a large hump on his shoulder. He seems to be a small bear (well, compared to the white bear I was expecting), maybe 300-350 pounds. We stare at him for a few seconds before I decide to scare him away. I open the door wide, and lay on the air horn. He turns tail and quickly runs away heading towards an esker. He keeps running until he is about 100 metres away. He then looks back, but keeps running. We watch until we can’t see him anymore.

We chatter excitedly about what we saw – a real, up-close, grizzly bear! I think we were pretty lucky to have seen this elusive animal. And in case you were wondering ... nope, no pictures!