War reporter gets the bear facts (1)

When I first moved to British Columbia nearly seven years ago, I thought my time spent dealing with men with guns was finally over.

For more than a decade I had been reporting on wars, first in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, later in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. During that time I had seen the aftermath of countless massacres, bombings, executions and assassinations.

I had stood on the side of a hill in eastern Bosnia, counting the rotting corpses of Srebrenica Muslims gunned down by their Serb neighbours; I had listened in horror as Kosovo Albanians told how their children were locked in a room by a policeman who then lobbed in a hand-grenade. And I had heard countless stories of torture, rape and murder committed by marauding thugs across three continents. 

As I hopped from one war zone to the next, I tried to remain convinced that my indignant prose would change policies, make the world a better place.

But each new hotspot seemed to hold the same algebra of suffering: men with guns, fuelled by bigotry, nationalism or religion, venting their hatred.

After more than a decade on the frontline, the final straw for me was Beslan. Watching more than 300 innocents, more than half of them children, shot and bombed to death in a callous attempt to settle political differences left me feeling wretched.

A remote valley in British Columbia and a small off-grid ranch hidden in the Selkirk Mountains, had to be the perfect remedy. My wife and I set up a small tourist operation, taking a handful of guests at a time to hike in the magnificent mountains, raft the river that runs along the edge of our property, and view the bears that make our valley their home. I applied myself to my new world.

I began to learn to distinguish the flowers and the trees and went off to the West Coast to learn all I could about that icon of the bush, the Grizzly Bear. In this new gentle world far from violence and political unrest, I reflected how people had learned to live in admirable harmony with the wild animals that share their habitat.

Imagine my consternation then as Spring hunting season came around and small bands of camouflaged Grizzly Bear hunters began to descend on our quiet little valley. All big rifles, quad-bikes and cheap beer, they set up camp in the valley bottoms. By night they told each other tall stories around the campfire, by day they scoured the lands for their ursine prey.

It seemed odd in this day and age, in a province that prides itself on its forward-looking, inclusive ethos, that this 19th Century pursuit was still not only legal, but actively encouraged by the lawmakers.

Julius Strauss reported principally for The London Daily Telegraph; to stay at Grizzly Bear ranch contact: http://grizzlybearranch.ca

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