(To enlarge these photos: Click on any photo. That will bring up a screen with photo thumbnails in a row. Click on one to enlarge. When it appears, RIGHT click on the enlargement and click on VIEW IMAGE. It will enlarge more. Click on it again and it will fill the screen.)
|Cast of a polar bear print.|
Tundra Buggy driver Marcus can stand it no longer. He wants to reposition the bus, so we are called back inside as he will not move the bus until everyone is seated. He moves forward and I feel the rear end of the buggy rise slightly onto higher ground.
He moves the bus perhaps thirty feet away and soon another buggy parks where we had been, but it stops sideways to the crouching bear. Thus, it is higher than our buggy had been when it we were backed into the spot where the bear jumped at us.
Inside the buggy, one of our group is rattled. The bear had leapt at him as it came from under the buggy, making the first noise I’d heard.
“I was taking a picture of it on the ground and the next thing I knew, all I could see was the side of its head in my camera,” he says.
|This is the second Tundra Buggy that moved next to the bear that had jumped at ours.|
|For comparison, the rail is seen across the lower left in the photo. In the photo above, the bear is s till in the same place.|
Julia, who was standing two or three people back from the rail when the bear hit the buggy the second time, says she looked it straight in the eyes when it slammed into the buggy.
I wasn’t at all sure I believed that. How can those bears possibly reach that high? These busses are built high off the ground for that express reason. Plus, this bear was small compared to the other bear that was sleeping nearby.
Yet, another man, who also was two or three people back from the rail, said, “I've read about and seen footage of lunges like this at Tundra Buggies. But they don't clear the top of the railing like this one did, I was awestruck by the sheer size of the polar bear -- seeing it eyeball-to-eyeball that close. “
Later on that day, our buggy comes face to face with another buggy as the drivers lean out their windows and exchange animal sightings. A woman seated in the front seat of the other buggy is wearing a tee shirt that read “Polar Bears Rock.” I take a couple photos of her for a joke.
That evening, back at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, I see the same woman and offer to e-mail her the photos.
I did so a week or two after I returned home and found her e-mail address. She wrote back asking if I had been in the buggy the bear jumped at.
She sent photos she had taken of the back of our buggy. I am utterly astonished when I see the photos and realize what they mean. No wonder Marcus had wigged out.
|The two paw prints are on the right side. One is just above ".com." The other is to the right of that, but harder to see.|
|The top of the rail is just visible at the top of the photo. This wall is about four feet high, and almost five feet off the ground.|
There is no longer any doubt in my mind that the bear had lunged with the intent of grabbing someone. Had anyone been leaning over or had anything dangling over the side, that bear would have had him. I no longer doubted Julia’s story about looking the bear straight in the eye over the rail—looking straight out, not looking down at it.
|That's me on the right. I'm 5'2. The top of the viewing deck is a few inches higher than the bottom of the row of windows.|
|That's the viewing deck on a Tundra Buggy.|