As I was preparing to leave Canada, most of my friends and family watched on with incredulity –
So you’re going to study grizzly bears in Australia? Do they even have bears in Australia?
The answer to this is, of course, no. There are no bears in Australia. Koalas, although frequently referred to as koala bears, are not real bears – they just look like teddy bears and hence their name. But I’m not here to study koalas, I’m here to study grizzly bears – the symbol of Canadian wilderness.
Studying bears in Australia is no different from someone based out of the University of Alberta studying lions in Africa. I’m in Australia because the man I want to study with is here. It’s obviously not a hard ship that I have to come to Australia during the winters to do my data analysis and have face to face time with my supervisor. Hey, sometimes the Universe hands you gift, you don’t have to question it, you just have to say Thank you very much.
I didn’t think about what people in Australia would say when they learned I was studying Canadian grizzlies.
I’ve been treated with the same curiosity and incredulity, which has made me smile every time. I’ve become known on campus as the “grizzly girl”, which cracks me up because at home you could call every tenth person that. Many people have asked why I’m here and I have the same answer – my supervisor. But one person caught me completely off guard when he asked:
Grizzly bear? What is that? I don’t know what this is.
I was stumped. What is a grizzly bear? Adjectives ran through my mind:
Well it’s big, and furry, and sometimes a little scary but mostly really cool. Umm…. They’re Canada’s largest land mammal, except for polar bears. Umm…
In the end, I pulled up this picture on my lap top – this is a grizzly bear.
He recognized it when he saw it, but it got me thinking.
What is a grizzly bear? Why is it important?
There are a million characteristics related to biology, habitat requirements, and even human safety… but do these characteristics make up a bear? That’s the shopping list of what describes a bear, but is that what a bear is?
I ponder this daily right now. So far, all I’ve come up with is that grizzly bears are sensitive rulers of our mountain forest. They walk through the landscape with tentative confidence. Sure they’re big, but they’re also shy and maybe a little nervous. Grizzlies are always trying avoid the bigger bears, but there’s another dynamic in Alberta and interior BC they deal with daily. They never know how they are going to be treated by people – in some areas they walk close to town on their way to a berry patch and people take their photograph and nothing more, in other areas they do the exact same thing and end up being trapped and relocated. Grizzly bears know they are big and strong, but they’re not bullies. They’re not keen to attack just because they can. And so we end up taking advantage of that sometimes. Hence the tentative confidence. A grizzly bear knows he could beat you in a wrestling match, but he’s not likely to go there because violence isn’t who he is deep down – it’s not in his essence.
When you look into a bear’s eyes, there’s thought, decision-making abilities, a past, and stories that make that bear who he or she is. Not all bears will react the same way to the same stimulus. In many ways, they’re like people that way – some of them are tolerant of noise and disturbance and others aren’t. When we think about sharing a landscape with grizzly bears roaming around, it’s important that we consider that individual variation.
In the meantime, I’ve taken it upon myself to share with as many Aussies as possible the truth about our often misunderstood grizzlies.
No they’re not inherently violent.
No they aren’t just going to eat you if you go for a hike.
Yes it’s ok to hike in bear country.
I’ve realized part of my task on this academic journey is to bring the grizzly story to Australia. To share what we know about these large carnivores on the other side of the world. The give the grizzly a voice “down unda”. It’s forcing to me to take it back to basics – never a bad place to be for a refreshing perspective.
50 Things That Are Only Possible In Australia
What do you know about Australia? Which country has the longest fence in the world? How about the 2nd largest Greek population? Three times more sheep than people? One word will give it away: kangaroos. Yes, it’s the Land Down Under.
Australia is the world’s 6th largest country and the only one that’s also a whole continent. But with all that territory, over 80% of Australians live within 60 miles of the coast. Before humans arrived, the continent was home to megafauna. If you’d lived there about 46,000 years ago, you’d be dead today. But you would’ve seen 10foottall kangaroos, 23footlong goanna lizards, and ducks the size of an adult horse.
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Grab your skis! 0:43
The world’s longest national highway 0:56
The Great Fence of Australia 1:13
How big the country is 1:35
A loooot of beaches 2:09
The biggest property in Australia 2:21
The largest living structure on the planet 2:57
Why kangaroos and emus are painted on their coat of arms 3:09
One of the most livable cities in the world 4:21
What Batmania is 4:41
Pink lakes 5:21
More sheep than people 5:47
50 million kangaroos 6:00
The most ancient fossils in the world 6:57
No hoofed animals 7:15
Burger King turns into Hungry Jack’s 7:21
Mount Disappointment 7:35
1,500 spider species! 8:03
National floral emblem 8:38
Languages of Australia 8:51
Australia traveling brightside
Music by Epidemic Sound https://www.epidemicsound.com/
“Australia” comes from the Latin word “australis,” meaning “southern.”
The world’s longest national highway is in Australia. It stretches for over 9,000 miles!
The biggest property in Australia is about 40,000 square miles in area. South Korea could fit into it with room to spare.
The largest living structure on the planet is the Australian Great Barrier Reef.
Neither kangaroos nor emus can walk backward. That’s why they’re painted on the Australian coat of arms. Keep moving forward!
The platypus, an egglaying mammal that lives only in Australia, is one of the rare venomous mammals on this planet.
Swimming in the surf during the day had been illegal in Australia up until 1902.
The largest Greek population outside of Greece itself is in Australia. Actually, to be more precise, in Melbourne.
Melbourne was the richest city in the world in 1880. These days, Tokyo, Japan holds this title.
In 2018, Australia ranked third after Norway and Switzerland on the Human Development Index.
There are about 74 million sheep to 25 million people in Australia, which makes an impressive ratio of three to one. O
In Western Australia, it’s against the law to be in possession of more than 110 pounds of potatoes.
The most ancient fossils in the world were found in Australia. They were no less than 3.4 billion years old!
There are so many different species in this country that only 25% of them have been discovered so far.
Australia has tons of unique flora and fauna species that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
More than 90% of Australia is covered with some kind of vegetation.
Since 1988, Australia has had a national floral emblem, and it’s the golden wattle.
Australia is a multinational country with more than 200 different languages and dialects spoken there.
There are 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia, including 12 natural sites, 3 cultural sites, and 4 mixed sites.
The difference between Australia’s total length and its width is only 200 miles.
The national Australian airline Qantas uses recycled cooking oil to power its interstate flights.
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