Friday, June 20, 2014

One Year Later: The 3:21 a.m. Story

3:21 a.m., Thursday, June 20th, 2013

"John! Jenn! It's Cassia...from downstairs...we're being evacuated."

It was one year ago today, in the middle of the night, that my wife and I got that fateful knock on our bedroom door from our downstairs tenant.

"What do you mean we're being evacuated?" I exclaimed. "For what?"

"The creek...behind the house...can't you hear it?"

And for the first time, my wife and I turned off our bedroom fan and opened our bedroom window to listen. I will never accurately be able to describe just what we heard that night, other than to say it sort of sounded like a jet plane was rushing through our backyard.  We rushed downstairs and out onto our deck and in the dim light of early, early dawn, we realized that our tiny little baby of a creek, Cougar Creek, a whopping 2 centimeters deep at the best of times (and without water at all for 360 days of the year), was an engorged torrent almost 40 meters wide raging against the outer edges of our property.

The moment was surreal. One year later, I can still vividly recall everything about that night, from our dazed and confused periods of simply standing there staring at the creek as it raced towards our house eating away at the bank minute-by-minute, to our frenzied gathering of everything we thought we needed to save, shoving our pets and computers and hard drives and family pictures into our vehicles until they were stuffed like sausages.

In the meantime, our sleepy little mountain town slowly began to awaken and the streets came alive with a throng of activity as our neighbours struggled like us to comprehend the situation and to get organized...we really had no idea what we were even organizing (case in point, when we finally were ready to leave our house, a person that I did not know that had just been in our living room helping us grab art off the walls asked if we had our marriage license and passports and documents like that -- the thought of grabbing such vital paperwork had never even occurred to us in the flurry of anxious gathering and moving).

Our vehicles were packed by 4:30 a.m., but because our 'flooding' situation was so different than what the rest of Alberta experienced (rather than overland flooding, we were watching the banks of our yard cave in against the rushing water), we continued to remove items from our house and transport them to a neighbour's house across the street until 7 a.m.

7:36 am in our backyard, June 20th, 2013

Shortly before 8 a.m., while standing on the street in front of our house in the pouring rain, I finally got in touch with my insurance agency and was stunned to discover that neither our house insurance or my business insurance covered any potential damage from the flood (Canada remains the only G8 nation that does not offer flood insurance). Within moments, I had frantically posted a message on twitter and facebook asking anyone and everyone in the area to come and please help me remove the $300,000 in product inventory (my books and greeting cards) that I had stored in our double-car garage.


What happened next still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.  An entire neighbourhood galvanized behind my messages and within minutes trucks and vans and friends I hadn't seen in years and people I had never even met before started arriving in front of our house, all intent on transferring 422 boxes of books and 54 boxes of greeting cards to safe havens around our town far from the creek. It was something I will never forget and will forever be grateful for.

By 8:30 a.m., we were officially evacuated.  The creek was now at our property lines, just 9.5 meters from our houses. The banks had already eroded an astonishing 35 meters and the creek was now taking down full-grown trees at the back of our yard.

At 10 a.m. I got permission from an RCMP officer to go back into our backyard to quickly document on video what our yard looked like.

10 a.m, in our backyard

9:52 a.m, June 20th, 2013

For the next two days, we sat on pins and needles in our neighbour's house across the street.  The three of us, my wife, myself and our neighbour Wade Graham (thanks Wade!), had decided early on the 20th that we were not going to evacuate our neighbourhood and not go to the evacuation centre: we informed the RCMP that we were not leaving and explained that we felt we were safer to stay out of the lower elevation downtown core where the centre was in favour of the higher ground of our neighbourhood.

We sat drinking and eating, laughing and crying, watching the rain pound down around us, and listening to that damn torrent roaring across the street. We were at times despondent (at 1 p.m. on June 20th, a firefighter came from the back of our house and said, "I'm really sorry, the water is halfway up your basement door") and at times jubilant (an hour later, the same firefighter told us the water had changed course and wasn't even against our house anymore).

I remember doing scores of interviews with outlets like CTV and CBC and with Canadian news icons such as Ian Hanomansing and Peter Mansbridge, and I recall not even calling CNN back at the height of the drama so I could console my wife when we thought our house was going to be lost (at one point the creek raged right below our house undercutting our foundation).


Looking back now, I honestly can't even remember the final moments, the realization that it was finally over after several days of anguish. I guess the rain slowly dissipated and the creek began to subside, but I can't really remember much of that time.

In the end, our house stood strong, as did many of our neighbours' houses. We all lost our backyards and we all suffered varying degrees of damage to our house.  We lived in a hotel for two months while our foundation got repaired, but we know just how lucky we were.  Our house is still standing, and for the first time in my life, I truly now know the phrase, "Home is where the heart is."

Some of our friends were not so fortunate.  Houses on our creek have been torn down, while others still sit in a state of disrepair a year later.


The night of June 20th, 2013 will not soon be forgotten in this household or in this town. But one year later, we have a lot to be thankful for.


As much as the past year has been a nightmare for our personal lives and for my business, it has also allowed us to the see the best that humanity has to offer in times of need.  It began with those selfless people that showed up in our driveway at 8 a.m. last year and continued through the following days as RCMP from across the province helped local firefighters help us get through the crisis at hand. The National Army showed up on our doorstep to chip in, and within a day the Red Cross had mobilized and was setting up aid stations.

While I fought like a demon with the Town of Canmore during the event itself (I actually got told to stop phoning the Emergency Help Line at one point -- long story best told over a case of beer), a year later I find myself calling John, Andy, Sally, Lisa, Aleric, Felix, and Greg friends of mine. To say they did a fantastic job of managing the situation over the past year would be to understate the work that these amazing people have done in the aftermath of the flood.

Solara Resort stepped up big-time and offered us a hotel room to stay in for two months with our dog and cat at just $1350/month in the middle of summer when the room would have normally cost $295/night. The Rotary Club of Canmore distributed three aid payments to households like ours that were affected by the flood, all based on the generous donations that people like you gave them over the past year.  And the Province of Alberta paid for our foundation repairs in their entirety.

To me, one of the things I will never forget is how this community stood behind us and helped us when we were down.  The support from our friends, family, and neighbours like Wade, and from people that I barely knew via my Facebook page or my Twitter account was truly heart-warming and honestly kept my wife and I going through thick and thin in the past twelve months. Thank you.

In recent months, I've often been asked by media questioning me if there are any silver linings in this for us residents of Cougar Creek.  And perhaps that's what I'm most thankful for of all, because of course there are silver linings that bring a smile to my face whenever I think of them.

Those f%#@ing trees that were blocking our view are now gone.

That bigger deck we've always craved is soon to be a reality.

We now know our neighbours. We always knew Gerald and Debbie and Dan and Christie, but now we also know Peter and Colleen and Gus and Marion and Alaina, along with hundreds more.

And finally, perhaps most importantly of all (tongue sorta firmly implanted in cheek),  the legendary Marriott fire pit, host of many a late-night gathering over the past five years, will once again soon be surrounded by merriness and laughter with family and friends, just the way it should be.

It's finally one year later, and while we will never forget, we're so very happy to be moving forward.

Thank you everyone,

John

Monday, May 12, 2014

And the Winners are...

I am extremely excited to announce that my two-part fundraiser for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, British Columbia raised an amazing $22,888 for the shelter, which is well beyond any of our expectations.  The shelter owners Peter and Angelika Langen were overjoyed with the number of donations and the success of the campaign and would like to personally pass along their thanks to each and every one of you that donated or promoted the contest through your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  In total, over 7 days in June 2013 and 10 days in May 2014, 163 of you donated money towards the care and rehabilitation of little guys like Norman (pictured below on Friday, May 9th when I visited the shelter on the final day of the fundraiser) so that they can be released back into the wild in their home ranges (Norman will be released back into the Penticton area in Spring 2015).

Norman photographed in his enclosure at the Shelter on May 9th, 2014

I was overwhelmed with the generosity of all of you and honestly had no idea we could have such a positive impact on the shelter.  Not only will this provide much-needed funding for projects such as the completion of their volunteer staff quarters and the new grizzly bear enclosure, but most importantly it gave Angelika and Peter and their staff the money they needed to purchase milk for all of the babies they'll be taking in over the coming months (milk is one of the Shelter's most costly day-to-day expenses).

So as a huge 'thank you' to all of you, it's time to announce the various winners of the fundraising contest!  The Shelter staff did a draw on Sunday morning to determine each of the winners, and they are as follows:


Day in the Field Photographing with Me (which automatically went to the highest donation):

- Corrine Tocher of Shawnigan Lake, BC

The Trip to the Shelter (drawn out of all donations of $100 or more -- and sponsored by Hawkair and Chez Josette Bed and Breakfast):

- Noriko Hessman of Edmonton, AB

20"x30" Photo Prints (drawn out of all donations of $25 or more):

- Candice Hueppelsheuesr of Blackfalds, AB

- Dietlinde Wall of Calgary, AB

- Shirley Anderson of Pentiction, BC

And I also added two additional 20"x30" prints to be drawn from all donations of $200 or more (because of the number of large donations the fundraiser received, I felt it was only fair to add a few more prizes for some of the biggest donators).  The winners of these two additional prints are:

- Kyle Breckenridge of Calgary, AB

- Jonathan Huyer of Canmore, AB

Congratulations to all of the winners, I'll be in touch with each of you to arrange your prize when I return from my Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Photo Tour after May 19th/20th.  And thank you once again to Hawkair and Chez Josette B&B for their generous donations towards the Trip to the Shelter for our winner, Noriko Hessman!  I would highly recommend either business to any of you traveling to the Smithers region (for Chez Josette) or flying from Calgary or Vancouver to Smithers, Terrace, or Prince Rupert (I use Hawkair each year for my Spirit Bear Photography trips).

Thank you again everyone, wish me luck on my grizzly bear trip!!

Sincerely,

John

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Win Bear Prints and a Trip for Two!

Do any of you feel like hanging one of my beautiful 20" x 30" bear photographs on your wall? How about spending a full day in the field with me photographing bears, wolves, and whatever else we can find here in the Canadian Rockies? Or perhaps you'd rather enjoy an exclusive weekend being whizzed up from Vancouver or Calgary on a flight with Hawkair to help feed and care for all of the baby wildlife at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society's (NLWS) shelter in Smithers, British Columbia?

Would this look good hanging on your wall in a 20" x 30" print? Then keep on reading for a chance to win it!

If any of those three things sound like they're up your alley, then read on for all the details on how you can win these prizes in the next ten days as part of the second half of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society fundraiser I began in June 2013 to help raise money for the world's only grizzly bear cub rehabilitation facility and one of Canada's best orphaned wildlife rehabilitation shelters.

As I just mentioned, we started this fundraiser last June and fully intended to wrap it up by June 30th, 2013. However, Mother Nature had other plans: at 3:21 a.m. in the early hours of June 19th -- a week into the contest/fundraiser -- my wife and I got a knock at our door from the Canmore fire department and were asked to evacuate our house immediately. For the next two days, we watched in horror as the tiny, meter-wide creek behind our house turned into a raging torrent that tore out the Trans-Canada Highway and caused over fifty million dollars in damage to our town (you can watch my videos of the event as it unfolded here and here and here on my youtube channel).

Now that things have finally settled down on the flood front and the first bears of the year are starting to appear after a winter's worth of sleep, I thought now was as good a time as any to revive the final ten days of the fundraiser and start doling out some pretty cool prizes to those of you that choose to donate to the shelter to help them add to their amazing legacy as the world's premier rehabilitation facility for orphaned black and grizzly bear cubs (and baby foxes, beavers, otters, raccoons, mountain goats, deer, moose, and a host of other big and small creatures!).

I was extremely fortunate last May to get a chance to visit the shelter firsthand (the shelter is closed to the public) on a private tour from owners Peter and Angelika Langen to learn what this amazing operation is all about.

Founded in 1990 by the Langens, the Shelter has rehabilitated and released more than 300 bears back into the wild in British Columbia (check out the video I took of the shelter last year).  And in 2007, they became the first and only wildlife shelter in the world to begin rehabbing and releasing orphan grizzly bear cubs back into their home ranges!

The Society has rehabbed and released more than 300 bears back into the wild since 1990!

When I was there last year, I got to spend an incredible four hours touring the facilities and seeing their 2012 bears (32 black bears and 3 grizzlies) just weeks before their 2013 releases back into the wild.

The visit quite literally moved me to tears.  I was astonished to see how much the Langens have accomplished with their limited resources, and I was buoyed beyond belief with the countless success stories that have come and gone from the Shelter over the years.  But throughout it all, I continuously had a feeling that the Shelter could use an infusion of funds, that they were operating at near capacity and that they were getting dangerously close to having to reject baby bears in the near future if they weren't able to expand soon and upgrade some of their pens and buildings.

So I asked Angelika what was on her wish-list and I resolved to do my best to help her raise some of that money.

Here is a list of what the Shelter needed as of June 2013, with notes for this year accompanying the list:

- a completed volunteer staff accommodation building.  The current staff accomm is in Angelika's house and is wearing on the entire operation as they require more and more volunteers to keep things running smoothly and they're running out of room in her house to do so.  Fortunately, the framing is already in place for a real staff accommodation building, but it still requires finishing inside (drywall, paint, etc) before anyone can move into it.  Projected cost: $30,000 [Angelika says this remains one of the shelter's biggest needs in 2014]

- funding to help with bear releases and captures.  This is one of the shelter's largest ongoing costs, as they have to ship the current group of black bear cubs back to their home ranges across British Columbia and collect new cubs as they are called in [the shelter currently has 10 black bear cubs that will need to be released back to the wild in Spring 2014]

- a new grizzly bear pen.  The current pen is great for grizzlies, but the adjoining black bear pen was at maximum capacity this year with 32 black bears.  If Angelika can raise enough money to build a new grizzly bear pen beside the current one (there is already land set aside for this), then the old grizzly bear pen can be joined up with the current black bear pen, effectively increasing the size of the black bear pen by almost 400%, greatly enhancing its ability to take on more black bears!!  Projected cost: $50,000 [this is now under construction in 2014, though additional funding is still required]

- an upgraded vet clinic/building.  The current clinic building is run-down and rough.  Angelika would like to completely clean it out and refinish the interior so that it is easier to maintain and more presentable when media visits to film or photograph new baby animals arriving at the Shelter (these media visits and original photographs from Angelika's staff of the new babies are critical in fund-raising efforts for day-to-day operations). Projected cost: $10,000

- new radio collars for bears.  The Shelter would love more money to pay for radio and gps collars for released bears so they can continue to track the success records of their released bear cubs. Projected cost: $10,000 [this continues to be a cost that the shelter needs help with in 2014]


The Prizes
And here is how we're going to raise money for the Shelter (this is where you win the prizes!):

1. Donate $25 or more for a chance to win prints

The fundraiser is set up to be as simple as possible.  Between now and midnight on the night of Friday, May 9th, if you donate $25 or more to the Shelter (donate here and make sure you select the 'John Marriott Fundraiser' from the drop-down menu), you will automatically be entered into a random draw to win one of three 20"x30" archival display prints (valued at $395 each) from my collection of more than 6,000 bear photographs, including grizzly bears, black bears, polar bears and white kermode bears!  The best part?  You get to choose the photo you want and I'll ship it anywhere in the world!

How would this one look on your wall at 20" x 30"?

2. Donate $100 or more for a chance to win a weekend trip to the Shelter this summer!

But that's not it for prizes.  In fact, the best one in my opinion is a full weekend volunteering at the shelter helping with baby foxes and moose and so on in July 2014.  Between now and midnight on the night of Friday, May 9th, if you donate $100 or more to the Shelter (donate here and make sure you select the 'John Marriott Fundraiser' from the drop-down menu) you will automatically be eligible to win a full weekend at the wildlife shelter volunteering with the baby wildlife, everything from beavers to otters to foxes to deer fawns (depending what they have on hand - note that you will not get to help with the baby bears because in order to avoid habituation to humans, the bear feeding is done by just one person throughout the year).  Thanks to the generosity of the flight specialists over at Central Mountain Air and Hawkair, we'll fly you over to Smithers, British Columbia from Vancouver or Calgary, and then thanks to Chez Josette B&B in Smithers, we'll put you (and your partner if you're willing to share a bed) up for two nights so you can spend your weekend helping the baby animals (Angelika says she's hoping the lucky winner will get to feed baby moose and deer with bottles!). This is an incredibly unique opportunity; normally you have to volunteer for SIX months to get to go into the shelter (which is not open to the public), so I really think that this is a fantastic prize for one lucky donor, a once-in-a-lifetime trip! Note that this is fully transferable, so if you win it and want to gift it to someone else, you can!

A huge thank you to Central Mountain Air and Hawkair in BC/Alberta for donating flights!

3.  Donate for a chance to win a full day in the field photographing with me!

And the final thing in the prize pot is a full day in the field photographing bears with me in BC or Alberta (depending on the time of year and where you are located or where I will be traveling).  Normally a day in the field with me costs $1195 a pop (and I very rarely even offer it), so this day with me is going to go to the highest donation received before midnight on the night of May 9th, 2014 (make sure you select the 'John Marriott Fundraiser' from the drop-down menu).  Donate $250 and you'll have a pretty good chance. Donate $500 and I'd say you'll have a really good chance.  Donate $1000 and I'd say you'll probably win! Note that this is also transferable as a gift to someone else.

 
The highest donation during the fundraiser will win a full day in the field with me chasing wolves and bears


I really hope many of you will consider donating by midnight on the night of May 9th.  The Northern Lights Wildlife Society is a charitable organization in Canada, so as an added bonus, Canadians will receive a tax receipt for any donations you make.  But perhaps the best part of your donation for each of you will be the knowledge that your money is going to be helping baby wildlife from BC get rehabilitated and released back into the wild for years to come, particularly if we can raise enough for some of the Society's larger projects.

Thank you very much to all of you that already donated in June 2013 in the first half of this fundraiser (you are of course eligible for all of these great prizes depending on how much you donated).  We've already raised a substantial amount of money and I'm excited to see if we can beat our totals from last year in the next ten days.

Sincerely,

John

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Monday, April 7, 2014

New Cards on the Horizon!

Those of you that have been following me for a while know by now that I've got a line of 51 different greeting cards that I sell through my card website, www.wildernessmoments.com  I'm going to be adding to the line this spring and would love your help in figuring out which of these 15 images should be added.  Please let me know in the Comments section at the bottom:

'The Yawn'

'Snuggling Up'

'Baby Raven'

'Fluff-Up'

'Portrait of a Lynx'

'Little Cutey II'

'Cuddle Time'

'Rainbow over Banff'

'Tongue Out'

'All in the Family'

'Aurora over Minnewanka'

'Bighorn Butts'

'Little Cutey'

'Wild Wolf'

'Baby Bear'

Please let me know your favourites in the Comments below.  Thanks everyone!!

John

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The cruelest April Fool's joke

It's that time of year: April Fool's Day.  When I was nine years old my Dad rushed down into my bedroom in Salmon Arm, British Columbia to tell me the news -- my beloved NHLer Guy Lafleur had been traded that morning from my equally beloved Montreal Canadiens to the California Golden Seals.  I lay in bed and cried and cried, heart-broken and crushed, until finally my Dad gave my arm a gentle punch and said those infamous words, "April Fool's!" and snuck back out of my room.

It still brings a devilish smile to my face every time I think about it, how my Dad took me at my most vulnerable and pulled a fast one on me. And since that day onwards, I've always tried my best to pull my own brilliant versions of April Fool's on those around me.

Only that this time around, as we 'celebrate' April 1st, 2014, it's bear lovers that are the brunt of the foolish joke: because this morning it's no April Fool's line when I tell you that grizzly bear hunting season opens in British Columbia, and the hills are alive with trophy hunters intent on adding a new rug or head to their grisly collections.

The beautiful big bears of the Chilcotin are once again being hunted today, after 13 years of peace

April 1st, Day One of grizzly bear hunting season in B.C., despite 87% of the province's residents being opposed to the hunt, and despite all of the science pointing out quite clearly that the current hunt is not based on science and is not sustainable in the long-term. You can ignore the ethics of the trophy hunt all you want -- why are grizzly hunters so intent on killing something that they do not eat or need to kill -- but the science is supposed to be what our governments use to manage our wildlife.


So when four of the world's most prominent grizzly bear and wildlife scientists speak out publicly about the failed science behind the BC grizzly bear hunt, I tend to listen: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/Stephen+Hume+Grizzly+hunt+fails+test+science+experts/9652306/story.html

Nature, the International Journal of Science, published the scientists findings, too, again coming out strongly against the grizzly hunt: http://www.nature.com/news/canadian-grizzly-bears-face-expanded-hunt-1.14914 

Another gorgeous Chilcotin bear that will be under fire from grizzly hunters this morning on 'April Fools Day'

So why isn't the British Columbia government listening to any of this? Why are they not listening to the general public?  Those are both good questions, and I suggest you fire off a quick email to the BC Premier Christy Clark at premier@gov.bc.ca and to Minister Steve Thomson at flnr.minister@gov.bc.ca  (the idiot that keeps defending the hunt in the BC Legislature saying repeatedly that it's "based on science") to ask them exactly those questions (and please feel free to include the links to those two articles).

Check out this article for more ammunition: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Stephen+Hume+Brutish+Columbia+trophy+bear+hunt+puts+display/9624211/story.html.
Vancouver Sun columnist Stephen Hume brilliantly sums up some of the ridiculousness of the trophy hunt.  Did you know that almost a third of the bears killed are females (even though grizzly hunters are not supposed to shoot females)?  And perhaps the best/worst part of the entire article is when Hume exposes that grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia contributes the same amount to the provincial economy as the CAR ALLOWANCE for 19 cabinet ministers and their assistant ministers. No, that's not an April Fool's joke, either, though I wish it was.

And if you feel like getting onto Twitter to express your displeasure, feel free to tweet Premier Christy Clark (@christyclarkbc) or Minister Thomson (@Steve4Kelowna).

I'm usually not that gentle in my tweets to either of them (read from bottom up to the top)

And finally, I want to point out a great article in the Huffington Post recently from a friend and colleague, Chelsea Turner: Bears are My Neighbours, and You Wouldn't Slaughter your Neighbours.  Please take a read when you have a chance and let me know what you think of Chelsea's opinions in my Comments section below.

Here's to hoping that by next year, April Fool's Day will be back to being just that...a day of funny fake jokes, not cruel real ones.

Thank you everyone for all of your support in trying to shut down the British Columbia grizzly bear hunt once and for all.

John

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Fight to Save Big Momma

Her name is Big Momma, and she is a photo tour superstar. Each fall in the Chilcotin, when my clients and I arrive to photograph grizzly bears eating salmon, Big Momma gets some of the biggest gasps and stares -- and for good reason, for she is gentle, she is beautiful, and she is big. Very big.

The gorgeous grizzly bear we call Big Momma -- gentle, beautiful, and big.

In fact, Big Momma is so big that next spring, if the British Columbia government has its way, for the first time in her life, she will be at risk of being gunned down by legal bear hunters looking for the ultimate trophy as she emerges from hibernation and wanders her way down into the valley bottoms to graze on fresh vegetation.  After all, what self-respecting trophy hunter could resist the temptation to fire at a 700 lb. (320 kg) bear sporting a lush winter coat that would make a perfect rug? 

It is as ridiculous as it sounds: a gorgeous female grizzly that produces wonderfully well-behaved cubs every three years will be at risk of being shot next spring so that some loser with a giant truck and a tiny penis can brag about how he slayed a giant with his life hanging in the balance (in other words, he'll lie -- the truth is, he'll shoot a big speck on a distant horizon with his high-powered rifle and then somehow claim that it makes him a better man).

Now I'm not here to argue that these grizzly hunters do need to strive to be better men; I suspect that that's as clear as day to most you that have come to this blog to read about the fight to save Big Momma's life.  What I am here to get very, very angry about is the proposal by the dimwits in charge of mis-managing British Columbia's wildlife resources to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin this spring after it's been closed for the past thirteen years.

[Steaming mad, yet?  Go 'Register' before December 20th (this Friday) at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/hunting/re-open-grizzly-bear-leh-hunts-mus-5-05-and-5-06 and leave your comments regarding why you are against this proposal to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin.  And keep reading if you want more ammunition to debate this proposal with....]

Want to know what happens in thirteen years without grizzly bear hunting and with a clamp-down on illegal grizzly killing by ranchers and poachers?  Strangely enough, wild grizzly bears start to show up on salmon streams and in distant fields, no longer afraid of being shot on sight. Bears like Big Momma start to show their faces in the day-time and shepherd their cubs along the banks of rivers and creeks where once they didn't dare go in the past for fear of being hunted.

And soon enough, ecotourism operations begin to sprout up, with tourists from around the world showing up to spend their hard-earned money to see and photograph wild grizzly bears in their natural habitat. In fact, bear viewing in B.C. provides as clear a financial argument as one could desire when it comes to putting an immediate end to the proposal to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin (or to even have a hunt at all).  Last year, one grizzly bear viewing operation (Knight Inlet Lodge on the west coast) in B.C. brought in more money than all of the grizzly bear hunting outfitters in the entire province combined.  One versus all, and one crushed all.

Want a financial argument just for the West Chilcotin?  Last year, my photo tours there brought in over $45,000 in direct revenue to the lodge I work with.  That was half of the grizzly bear viewing business they did last fall.  And they are one of just five bear viewing operations in the West Chilcotin last year.  Extrapolate my figures and it's not hard to see that bear viewing in the West Chilcotin is already worth up to $450,000 in direct revenue each and every year.  Couple that with the indirect revenue that gets spread throughout the Chilcotin, from the gas station at Anahim Lake to Safeway at Williams Lake to the charter planes flying out of Vancouver, and the direct and indirect financial impact of these five tiny bear viewing operations in the West Chilcotin is likely in excess of $1,000,000.

They are staggering numbers, particularly when compared to how much it would cost a resident of British Columbia to go hunt a grizzly bear in the West Chilcotin next spring: $32 gets you a hunting license, and another $80 gets you a grizzly bear tag (all grizzly bear hunting in BC is via Limited Entry Hunting).  So if you win the LEH lottery and get a tag, it costs you a whopping $112 in provincial licenses to go shoot Big Momma.  $112....

Big Momma in 2010 -- grizzly bear viewing revenues dwarf grizzly bear hunting revenues in B.C.

[The same officials that have proposed the re-opening of the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin have also proposed re-opening the hunt in two different parts of the Southern Rockies in the Kootenay region, please go 'Register' before December 20th (this Friday) at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/hunting/re-open-grizzly-bear-leh-hunts-mus-4-20-and-4-23 and also leave your separate comments there regarding why you are against this proposal, too.  Keep reading if you want more facts to use in your arguments against both proposals.]

At this point, many of you may be wondering about the loud cries you often hear from the hunting community about how their licenses and fees go directly into conservation and into supporting wildlife management in British Columbia.  Their argument is that without hunting licenses and the money generated from them, we'd have no wildlife management and little conservation in the province.  So let's break that down quickly, because surely that has some merit, right?

Nope, not really.  What it boils down to is this: the government chooses to take the money from hunting licenses and invest that back into wildlife management instead of into health care and road building.  They take the much larger amount of revenue generated from tourism and tourism components like bear viewing and pump that into the general coffers into things like health care and road building.  But if they wanted to, they could put it into wildlife management instead and the argument that the hunting community fosters the province's wildlife conservation projects would be dead before it started.

That's not to say that the hunting industry doesn't play a role in conservation, because it often does. However, the larger truth is that wildlife management in British Columbia is geared almost entirely towards 'management for hunting', not towards actual conservation management.  And most hunting lobbies simply lobby to ensure they get more hunting opportunities.  Their lobbying often has little to do with conservation, as is clearly evidenced when one looks at the parks set aside in British Columbia: for the most part, the hunting industry had nothing to do with protecting any of the national park lands or the majority of the provincial park lands, and it definitely had nothing to do with preserving Canada's only grizzly bear bear sanctuary, the Khutzeymateen (in fact, in some of these cases, the hunting community lobbied strongly against protecting these areas).

So back to the issue at hand, why on earth is the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations proposing to re-open the grizzly bear hunt in the West Chilcotin after thirteen years of no grizzly hunting?  It's not a financial decision, so it must be a biological decision, right?  Maybe the bears are overpopulated, maybe they need thinning out?

Nope, not that either.  Though that's what you'd be led to believe if you read the government website with the proposal on it:

These two management units are part of the Klinaklini-Homathko Grizzly Bear population Unit (GBPU); This GBPU is classified as viable. The LEH in these MU’s was closed in 2000 due to a combination of hunter kills and conflict bear kills along the northern and eastern fringe of the MUs where ranching and other human development is more widespread. As a result the mortality exceeded the Annual Allowable Harvest (AAH).  A new population estimate has been developed (184 grizzly bears) and the Annual Allowable Mortality has been set at approximately 4% or 7.4 bears per year. After removing 1% for unreported and problem bears there are approximately 5 bears per year for hunter allocation.

Anecdotal information from various stakeholders suggests that the grizzly bear population has increased which corresponds with the recently updated population estimates. . DFO personnel who work [in the area] have also observed substantial increases in bear sightings and encounters over [the] last 10-15 years.

So lemme get this straight...you're telling me that after grizzly bear hunting stopped, the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) started seeing more bears on the rivers?  No SH*T!  Absolutely incredible information, truly ground-breaking stuff from the geniuses in charge of our wildlife management in B.C. [yes, that is sarcasm you can see dripping off of your screens].  And you're telling me that your various stakeholders (read: ranchers, hunters, guide-outfitters, trappers) are telling you that they, too, are seeing more bears?  Wow! No personal stake in that one, is there?

I think we all stopped believing most ranchers crying wolf long ago (Vancouver Sun article, October 1, 2012) and I'm pretty sure that we're not going to believe grizzly hunters, either.  So I decided to go straight to the source and ask Cedar Mueller, the grizzly bear researcher that knows more about the West Chilcotin grizzlies than anyone else on earth.  I wanted to know if the population estimate was accurate (nope), how it was determined (by manipulating her study data), and if she felt grizzly bears were stable enough in the region to hunt (putting aside the ethics of grizzly bear hunting for a second and speaking strictly from a biological standpoint, she unequivocally said NO).

Big Momma in 2012 without cubs -- why should this gentle bear be exposed to hunting?

Mueller forwarded me her draft Final Report for her study, which referred repeatedly to just how critically important this small population was to an enormous area around it in terms of grizzly bear population stability.  She found that grizzly bears were coming from as far as 115 kilometers away to get to the salmon spawning streams and rivers in the West Chilcotin and that many of these bears were from sub-populations that are severely threatened -- in fact, if you look at a map, the entire eastern edge of the area they are proposing to re-open to grizzly bear hunting is either considered to be a Threatened GBPU (grizzly bear population unit) or has had grizzly bears extirpated altogether.

Even if Mueller's report concluded that there were 184 individuals in the West Chilcotin (which it doesn't -- it only attempts to determine populations in grizzly bear migration areas at certain times of the year, like the number of grizzlies using a particular stream or river during spawning season), the fact that this grizzly bear population unit is bordered by threatened and non-existent grizzly bear populations on its eastern side should be reason enough not to fool around with bear numbers via a  bear hunt.  So the fact that Mueller believes the catchment area for the fall grizzlies congregating to feed on salmon is actually in the neighbourhood of 41,000 square kilometers (FOUR times the size of Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks combined!) makes the number 184 look measly at best -- consider that the Banff-Jasper contiguous national park area has between 200-250 wild grizzly bears in a quarter the space, yet that population is considered to be threatened.  So how is the B.C. government determining that this small population of bears in the West Chilcotin is now viable enough to have bears hunted from it?

The sad truth is that this is a political play from ranchers, hunters, trappers, and guide-outfitters putting pressure on the Ministry to re-open the hunt despite a lack of financial, ethical, or biological reasoning.  So what I need each of you to do is to make your voice heard on behalf of Big Momma and the rest of the West Chilcotin bears and Register and submit Comments at http://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/hunting/re-open-grizzly-bear-leh-hunts-mus-5-05-and-5-06 by this Friday, December 20th.

The government has purposefully made it as difficult as possible to voice your opposition to this, so please also contact the Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, the Honourable Steve Thomson, at FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca or on Twitter at @Steve4Kelowna or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Steve4Kelowna and let him know your feelings on this issue.

Thank you to you all for your help with this.  With any luck, next spring will be just like the past thirteen springs for Big Momma and the rest of the West Chilcotin grizzly bears.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wildlife Photo Seminar in Calgary this Saturday

Hi everyone,

My apologies for the lengthy delay in communication here on my blog, things have been busy!  I wanted to let you all know about a 4-hour wildlife photography seminar called Getting Wild About Photography that I'll be doing this weekend in Calgary, Alberta from 1-5 p.m.  There are a few spots remaining, so if you're interested in learning more about wildlife photography and about how I photograph certain situations and how I process and edit my images, then this is the seminar for you.

"All in the Family" - shot on this year's Chilcotin Grizzly Bear photo tour in September

I've also now released my dates for next year's Wildflower and Landscape Photography Workshop in the Bugaboo Mountains in British Columbia.  This popular workshop has sold out for three years in a row, so if flying around in a helicopter to flower-filled meadows during a photo workshop sounds like your cup of tea, then check it out.

We had seven different colours of Indian Paintbrush on August's workshop!

Stay tuned for more 2014 photo workshop and tour dates in the coming weeks.

Thanks everyone,

John

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Spirit Bears and Other News

Hello everyone, it's been quite the long and winding road for me and my wife this summer and early fall as we've spent the majority of our time dealing with the aftermath of the Alberta floods which ravaged our house (quite literally -- if you haven't seen any of my flood videos, check out my youtube channel at john660).  As a result, my blog has been left in the dust for a while, so I thought today, a week after my Spirit Bear Photography Tour ended and a day before my Chilcotin Grizzly Bear Photo Tour begins, was as good a time as any to revive the ol' blog and let you know what I'm up to.

For starters, I've added a few new items to this year's and next year's tour, workshop, and seminar calendar, including a Polar Bear Photo Tour to Cape Churchill which sold out almost instantly (within a week).  I'm hoping to add this trip to my list of 2014 tours, so stay tuned for details in early December to see if it does get added.  I've also added a new February wildlife photography workshop in beautiful Jasper National Park and a wildlife photography seminar in Calgary in late November, you can check out all the details over on my Canwild Photo Tours website

I'm hoping to add a few more seminars in other locales this winter, including Vancouver, and I'm also hoping to have my tours for next year finalized in mid-October.  You can expect another Khutzeymateen grizzly bear trip, as well as the Spirit Bear tour, the Chilcotin grizzly tour, and at least one northern experience in search of caribou/muskox!  Sign up for my newsletter now if you haven't already so you'll have an early crack at getting a spot on one of these trips.


In terms of gear news, I've just received the new Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 lens (version II) to test out on my Chilcotin bear trip, so I'll be posting a full review when I get back.

I think that's it for an update, so here's a few pics from my recent spirit bear photo trip in the Great Bear Rainforest.  Enjoy!

Our first white bear of the trip!

A baldie surveying her terrain

Backlit blow from a humpback whale

Beautiful big black bear male in a mossy canyon

'Peek-a-boo' bear from behind the rocks

Caviar, anyone?

Thanks for looking and reading, everyone, wish me luck on my next adventure in the Chilcotin!

Happy shooting,

John

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Win Bear Prints - NLWS Fundraiser!

I am very excited today to announce a chance for all of you loyal followers and readers to win a host of cool prizes from me.  Feel like putting a 20"x30" archival display print from my collection of more than 6,000 bear photographs on your wall?  Want to spend a full day in the field with me photographing bears and other beasts?

Then read on for details of my June fundraiser for the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada.  The NLWS is the only grizzly bear rehabilitation facility on the planet and last month I got the chance to visit the Shelter on a private tour from owners Peter and Angelika Langen to learn what this amazing operation is all about.

Founded in 1990 by the Langens, the Shelter has rehabilitated and released more than 277 bears back into the wild in British Columbia.  And in 2007, they became the first and only wildlife shelter in the world to begin rehabbing and releasing orphan grizzly bear cubs back into their home ranges.

The Shelter is home to more than just orphan bears, as they've already taken in three moose calves this year and they regularly rehab and release moose calves, deer fawns, and a host of smaller creatures like baby beavers, baby otters, baby raccoons, and baby foxes each year!

And rather than having me write on and on about how great the Shelter is, I thought I'd give you a first-hand look at what they do and why I'm doing a fundraiser for them. Check out this short (and VERY exciting, haha!) 8-minute video I put together from my visit in May (or click here to view the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter video full-size on youtube:



The Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter fundraising efforts

I first contacted the Shelter two years ago in May when two young grizzly cubs (Quill and Morant) were orphaned in Banff National Park after their mother (Dawn) was killed by a train near Lake Louise the day after Cai Priestley and I had photographed her.

I spent quite a bit of time in the following days trying to convince Parks Canada to ship the undersized and underweight cubs to the Shelter in B.C., but in the end Parks decided to leave the cubs to fend for themselves (while both bears are believed to have survived two years on their own, Quill in particular has been in all sorts of trouble with humans and would be considered a long-shot at this point to become an adult bear given Parks Canada's poor track record with young adult male grizzlies in the Lake Louise area).

Fast-forward two years and through chance circumstances and the belief of one individual (thanks Carolee) that I could help the Shelter out with fundraising efforts, I got back in touch with the Langens and got to spend an incredible four hours at the Shelter in May touring the facilities and seeing their 2012 bears (32 black bears and 3 grizzlies) first-hand just weeks before their releases back into the wild!

The visit quite literally moved me to tears.  I was astonished to see how much the Langens have accomplished with their limited resources, and I was buoyed beyond belief with the countless success stories that have come and gone from the Shelter over the years.  But throughout it all, I continuously had a feeling that the Shelter could use an infusion of funds, that they were operating at near capacity and that they were getting dangerously close to having to reject baby bears in the near future if they weren't able to expand soon and upgrade some of their pens and buildings.

So I asked Angelika what was on her wish-list and I resolved to do my best to help her raise some of that money.

Here is a list of what the Shelter currently needs:

- a new grizzly bear pen.  The current pen is great for grizzlies, but the adjoining black bear pen was at maximum capacity this year with 32 black bears.  If Angelika can raise enough money to build a new grizzly bear pen beside the current one (there is already land set aside for this), then the old grizzly bear pen can be joined up with the current black bear pen, effectively increasing the size of the black bear pen by almost 400%, greatly enhancing its ability to take on more black bears!!  Projected cost: $50,000

- an upgraded vet clinic/building.  The current clinic building is run-down and rough.  Angelika would like to completely clean it out and refinish the interior so that it is easier to maintain and more presentable when media visits to film or photograph new baby animals arriving at the Shelter (these media visits and original photographs from Angelika's staff of the new babies are critical in fund-raising efforts for day-to-day operations). Projected cost: $10,000

- a completed volunteer staff accommodation building.  The current staff accomm is in Angelika's house and is wearing on the entire operation as they require more and more volunteers to keep things running smoothly and they're running out of room in her house to do so.  Fortunately, the framing is already in place for a real staff accommodation building, but it still requires finishing inside (drywall, paint, etc) before anyone can move into it.  Projected cost: $30,000

- a new Siberian lynx pen.  Years ago the Shelter took in a pet Siberian lynx that was about to be euthanized by a vet. Unfortunately, the lynx is now using a space that would be better suited to bears than to a pet lynx and Angelika would love to move the lynx to a small new pen.  Projected cost: $6,000

- new radio collars for bears.  The Shelter would love more money to pay for radio and gps collars for released bears so they can continue to track the success records of their released bear cubs. Projected cost: $10,000

And here is how we're going to raise money for the Shelter:

The fundraiser is going to be as simple as possible.  Between now and the end of June, if you donate $25 or more to the Shelter (donate here), you will automatically be entered into a random draw to win one of three 20"x30" archival display prints (valued at $395 each) from my collection of more than 6,000 bear photographs, including grizzly bears, black bears, polar bears and white kermode bears!  The best part?  You get to choose the photo you want!

But that's not it for prizes.  In fact, the best one in my opinion is a full weekend volunteering at the Shelter helping with baby foxes and moose and so on in July 2013 or July 2014.  Between now and the end of June, if you donate $100 or more to the Shelter (donate here) you will automatically be eligible to win a full weekend at the Shelter volunteering with the baby wildlife, everything from beavers to otters to foxes to deer fawns (depending what they have on hand - note that you will not get to help with the baby bears because in order to avoid habituation to humans, the bear feeding is done by just one person throughout the year)...so we'll fly you from Calgary (July 2013 only) or Vancouver (2013 or 2014) up to Smithers, BC, put you up in a hotel/inn near the Shelter, and then you'll get to help with the baby animals for an entire weekend, feeding baby moose with a bottle, helping out baby foxes, etc.  This is an incredibly unique opportunity because normally you have to volunteer for SIX months to get to go into the Shelter (which is not open to the public), so I really think that the opportunity to go there for a weekend would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many of you. Note that this is fully transferrable, so if you win it and want to gift it to someone else, you can!

And the final thing in the prize pot is a full day in the field photographing bears with me in BC or Alberta (depending on the time of year and where you are located or where I will be traveling).  Normally a day in the field with me costs $1195 a pop (and I very rarely even offer it), so this day with me is going to go to the highest donation received before the end of June.  Donate $250 and you'll have a pretty good chance. Donate $500 and I'd say you'll have a really good chance.  Donate $1000 and I'd say you'll probably win! Note that this is also transferrable as a gift to someone else.

I really hope many of you will consider donating by the end of this month.  The Shelter is a charitable organization in Canada, so Canadians will all receive a tax receipt for any donations you make.  But perhaps the best part of your donation will be the knowledge that your money is going to be helping baby wildlife from BC get rehabilitated and released back into the wild for years to come, particularly if we can raise enough for some of the Shelter's larger projects.

Thanks everyone, please let me know what you think of this fundraiser here in the Comments section or over on Facebook/Twitter.

Enjoy the video!

John

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fifteen Days of Glory

7,712 photographs, 32 videos, 2,221 kilometers driving, 103 kilometers snowshoeing, 2 wildlife photographers, 1 lost shoe, and a lifetime of stories: this is the initial tale of the greatest wildlife encounter of my career, my 15 days of glory with 2 lynx -- a mother and her kitten.

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The first day was the hardest.  I had let myself get soft in the final month of winter here in the Canadian Rockies, watching too much hockey on tv and skipping the gym in favour of taste-testing new beers I had picked up on my travels in the months prior.

"Just...one...more...step.  Just keep going.  You can't give up now. You can't give up NOW."

I was three hours into slugging my way through the thigh-deep, lightly-crusted snow and I was beyond exhausted. In the fluster of excitement at the first sight of the mother lynx and her kitten, I had moved into the deep snow in the forest in just my Sorels (no snowshoes), carrying both my 70-200mm lens and my big 500mm telephoto. Worse yet, I had not yet had a chance to 'gear down' as I normally did as the day warmed -- so I was still wearing my -15 C (0 F) layers, including two pairs of long johns.

Within twenty minutes of following the lynx, I was soaked through in sweat. But as anyone else would do, I plunged onwards deeper and deeper into the forest, the adrenalin coursing through my veins.

Unlike most of my wildlife photography encounters, this time I was not alone. That day, of all days, my wife had convinced me to take her friend's daughter, a Canmore Collegiate high school student, along for a morning wildlife cruise in the hopes of seeing wolves.  Up until 11 a.m., Alex had seen nothing more than a few distant goats.  Five minutes later she was waist-deep in crusted powder following two lynx through a forest.

We had joined up with my friend and colleague, Brandon T. Brown, who had found the lynx earlier that morning and had sent an ominous text that had floated around in cyberspace for two hours before finally landing on my cell phone:

"Get here now!!"

And so there we were, the three of us following a mother lynx and her kitten through the snow, half-expecting the encounter to end at any moment -- but it didn't. In fact, long after our adrenalin stocks had gone the way of the dodo bird, long after Alex had lost her hiking shoe in the snow (we swore we'd look for it when the encounter was over, but we never did come back to find it), and long after I had given up dreaming of water and food and nap-time, we were still plunging through the crust keeping the lynx in our sight.

For an astonishing six-and-a-half hours (eight for Brandon!), we followed the lynx pair through a winding crash course in a-day-in-the-life-of-a-lynx.

It was the most physically-draining thing I have ever done, but it was worth every exhilarating minute of it. On one hand, Brandon and I both came out of the day with more than 100 GBs each of lynx photos; and on the other hand, we were both so tired and sore at the end of that first day that neither of us could get out of bed the next!

But then we did finally get out of bed again two days later, and astonishingly, we found the lynx again. And then we found them again two days after that.  And again five days after that.  And finally, in one last glorious hurrah, I spent four final hours alone with her and her kitten in late March.

The encounters truly have produced a lifetime worth of stories and photographs.  But as I often do, I will save most of both for another day and another time, sharing with you all just a taste of what made these encounters so special for both Brandon and I.

Enjoy!!

'Mom' - the most beautiful lynx I have ever seen

'The Kitten' - the cutest lynx I have ever seen

'Wachful Eye' - the kitten watching a squirrel in a tree above

'On the hunt' - the kitten prowling about the forest

'Together' - mom and the kitten pause for a moment in the forest

'Cuddle Time' - mom and the kitten cuddle up for a nap

Want to see 28 more beautiful, full-screen shots?  Check out my brand new photo gallery section over on my website and look for the What's New - Lynx gallery. 

Thanks everyone, please feel free to leave your 'Comments' below.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Lynx Fight

The first three words I blurted out were swear words.  Which is fine if one is not in the middle of chatting on a walkie-talkie radio with paying clients on a photography tour.  But I was....

And not only did I swear on the radio in front of paying clients, but I did so with a tremendous amount of gusto and volume.  It was high-pitched, it was even feverish.

Thankfully, none of my clients remember a thing about me reciting several of the most commonly used words in the English language into the radio.  I guess that's what happens when you're driving along and suddenly come upon a couple of lynx on the side of the road.

You know...just a couple of lynx. Nothing major, right?

And now let me provide a little insight into what goes on a professional wildlife photographer's mind when a couple of lynx are encountered on the side of the road:

What the wow get your window down no open the door no stop the car park pull over sh%t no time please please stay there grab camera open door no window down no door theyre crossing the road mother of pearl change aperture focus oh my gosh theyre gonna fight get both in should i change lenses no do it no concentrate stop shaking get both in wow theyre gonna fight get both in get both in GET BOTH IN!!!!

So that was what happened in the first half second or so.  Haha!  Note that I did not think even once of what exactly my clients were doing or if they were even getting shots (ulp, forgive me John, Kim, and Don!).

In all, the photo experience was probably two minutes worth of lynx, though it seemed like an hour in comparison to the rest of my lynx encounters over the years.  This time I actually had time to think (sort of) and managed to get my breathing and shaking under control (though it took me most of the two minutes to do so!).

I'll never be sure, but I think the two big males were squaring off in what was either a fight over a lady or a territorial dispute.  For much of the encounter it looked like they would fight right there in front of us, but instead they wandered back into the bush where we could hear them screaming and howling at each other (at one point we attempted to follow them in, but the snow was too deep). I don't know if they actually fought, but it sure sounded like they did!

The first male hustles across the road right between our cars, I shot this with a 500mm hand-held out of my car door
 
As the first male walked up onto the snowbank opposite us, it became obvious that he was pretty ticked at the other male!

At this point he was visibly upset and was hissing loudly as the other male approached him

Still shooting with my 500mm, the first male changed his body position and continued to stare down the male below him

Getting very aggressive now, feet splayed out, scowling and hissing!

Face-to-face hissing away at each other!

Taking a swipe with his front right paw

Head-to-head making a bunch of angry noise!


Walking away into the trees, two minutes after we first spotted them

Thanks for looking everyone, let me know which ones are your faves in the 'Comments' below.  Happy shooting!

John

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