Hill-walking with major predators…

This, a plan to introduce bears and wolves to the Scottish Highlands, is insanity on a grand scale. Dangerous insanity, too, in an area immensely popular with climbers, walkers, peak-baggers and backpackers. Mountain-bikers too, I suppose. These are not simply, as he views them, “large mammals”, but major predators, each at the top of its respective food chain. They are not to be treated lightly.

The idiot landowner is talking about introducing 10 bears,  and 2 packs each of 10 wolves, the latter quite capable of becoming multiple packs (or two huge packs), in a surprisingly few years (depending on the number of females).

You know, there’s an odd belief rife among fans of the wolf, that there is no recorded incidence of wolves ever having attacked humans unprovoked – completely ignoring the fact that absence of evidence is most certainly not evidence of absence, and there is a very good reason why there’s no evidence – the wolves have eaten it! And what they leave the scavengers will take care of.

Bears, though, might prove the biggest menace to humans, and along America’s wilderness trails they take a regular toll of unsuspecting backpackers.

Eat a chocolate bar in your tent late at night – as many backpackers do (I was one for years before becoming disabled) – and a bear will come for it. And for you, too.

If you’re a woman, and menstruating, you might as well fly a “Bears Welcome” flag, as they’ll follow the blood scent upwind for miles to snack on you. And not just the fearsome and notoriously cantankerous grizzly, but black bears too.  In fact the latter are far more likely to be encountered as there are relatively few grizzlies left in the US. Whichever species, though, there are two things you don’t want to do: 1. Attract them, and 2. Piss them off. And you can manage both just by being in their territory, especially a sow with cubs (male bears are boars). Nope, no idea why.

Advice on how to deal with a bear attack varies according to the “expert” you ask (who seem never to have put their own advice to the test). Play dead, say some, which can be unfortunate if your bear is fond of carrion. Attack, say others – make yourself seem as big as possible (how is rarely, if ever, explained), and rush the bear yelling and screaming. Well, OK, there’ll be screaming as this approach seems designed to piss off bears and make them rise to the challenge!

My advice, but severely frowned upon by Trail authorities, is carry a large-calibre revolver (automatics can jam at just the wrong time), and remember that bears, especially grizzlies, are tough buggers and take some killing, so learn to shoot. Bottom line though, if you’re unarmed and a bear wants you, it’s going to have you. And that will apply to Scottish bears as much as to US.

In Europe I was advised to hang a little bell from my pack, so that I’d jingle merrily as I went on my way, which would alert bears and they’d obligingly scurry off. Or, perhaps, think “WTF? It’s dinner again!” and arrive at a full-bore run, which looks hilarious but is deceptively fa…

And assuming you survive the first day, all that jingling will have driven you batshit, and you just pray you can stop twitching for long enough to stomp the bell into scrap.

There’s one thing to look forward to – if this Scottish clown ever gets to go ahead with his plans, he should be forced to spend a week – radio-tagged so he can be tracked, and can’t hunker down in a bothy** – backpacking among the bears and wolves to show just how, errm, safe it is. With any luck he’d never be seen again and the animals would be removed to a far more suitable location.

**And so any remains can be recovered.

Cruel, do I hear you say? Yes, I suppose it is a little, but I doubt the animals’ digestive systems would suffer too much.

NB: Bear predation info from A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson (the Appalachian Trail), and personal experience (Europe). Wolf info, common sense.

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4 thoughts on “Hill-walking with major predators…

  1. Your writing, as ever, is on top form. I agree with you. I have relatives in the Rockies in Canada, and we stayed once in a fairly secluded holiday cabin, and I was told not to go to the (outside) toilet in the night on my own because of the bears, and in the daytime they had a gun! Amazing how I didn’t drink much before bedtime!

    • Thanks but, to be honest, I haven’t really been at the top of my game of late. I like this post though, on several levels, so I have hopes that I might get back on form.

      With an outside toilet I’d have been more worried about spiders than bears!

      Back in by backpacking days, I was woken one morning, by a despairing cry “Ron! There’s claws in my tent. Heeelp!!!

      It was the Peak District so the worst it could have been was a badger that had stayed out too late (unless you put your bacon right under the tent, and slept on top of it, foxes or badgers – even mice – were liable to pinch it in the night, or in the case of mice nibble a frilly edge on the fat.

      So I wandered over through the early-morning dew, looked in his tent and, sure enough, there were claws as advertised – 20 delicate, glass-clear talons which, a peep under the flysheet revealed, belonged to a tiny kitten! I unhooked it – kittens have a grab reflex, which makes it hard for them to retract their claws if they get them snagged, showed it to him, with appropriate mocking, and took it back to the farm, where it tottered off in search of mum and a feed. God knows how it made it to his tent – it was barely old enough to walk.

      Was he ever allowed to live down being reduced to a quivering wreck by a kitten smaller than his hand. Er – no!

      Almost forgot. The previous night we’d been adopted by the farm dog, which decided it was going to guard my tent. Then when we went to the pub, it escorted us to the gate, and sat down.

      Later, he left the pub before me, and I heard the creak of the farm gate, followed by a terrible scream! and though, Hmmm . . .

      Turned out that that the dog had waited all evening for us by the gate, as I’d half expected, and had leapt on him in the dark, giving him a savage licking! Amused he was not.

  2. It’s crazy that conservation groups are trying desperately to protect remaining pairs of red squirrel and wildcat and this landowner wants to introduce large predators. One has to be extremely careful, even when re-introducing previously extinct species; I think red kites are fantastic, but because of people feeding them, in some areas, they are already becoming a nuisance. This is exactly what some would do with wolves/bears and before you know it, we’d hear of attacks and be in a culling situation with the attendant outcry. I do not want to be offered bear ‘advice’ – though I appreciate your doing so – I just do not want the problem!

    • It wasn’t bear advice, Pat – I was simply pointing up the problems they’ll create by means of anecdotes.

      One thing I omitted to mention, folks – the data are Bryson’s, not the words. They’re mine.

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