Why do people choose to travel to see wildlife? What is it that a nature vacation offers that another type of trip cannot? I don’t have all the answers to those questions, but I know from personal experience that it is days like today, full of up-close polar bear viewing, that makes Churchill such a spectacular place to view wild polar bears.
Here’s an excerpt from my log today:
The bear snorted. Dropped down. Meandered to a side window. Reared up again, literally nose to nose with people inside. He yawned hugely, displaying dark tongue and tonsils, which strangely were noticed much more than the long, powerful, yellowish canine fangs. Huffing, he leant backwards, braced, and hurled his full weight through locked fore-legs into the side of our vehicle. Bang, Bang. The vehicle shook. Maybe some guests cried out in amazement at this display of brute strength and intent. The bear pushed his nose firm against the window before dropping down again, leaving a wet smear on the glass.
Walking under the deck again, still as measured and calm as ever despite the rising levels of excitement and adrenaline-fuelled nerves above him, he stood under our feet. Now we could really appreciate his size. So big. And staring imperturbably upwards, nose mere millimetres from out toes.
When a tiny cub did this last week we all felt tempted to put our fingers down and stroke it. This adult male polar bear was different. Everyone could tell he is intentful. There was no talk of this bear ‘putting on a show for us’ or ‘responding to our requests’. This bear was being a bear. His wildness was untouchable, unimpeachable, and magnificent. Scars crisscrossed his nose, he was not pretty. He was not cute, or cuddly, or adorable. He Was magnificent. The experience was magnificent.
Chills of emotion and thrills of excitement always riffle over a group who share a moment of contact with wild brutality. It ensnares us, like rabbits in a headlight. As humans we love it, we fear it, we come close to fully appreciating it. We are humbled to be here, and gladful for our metal cage, protecting us from this incomprehensible wildness.