Grisly ad­ven­tures with griz­zlies and their kin

Search for the Ul­ti­mate Bear 5pm, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Karen Dearne

GIVEN the day and times­lot, Search for the Ul­ti­mate Bear may seem a safe choice, but this film is too grisly for the teddy bear set.

Deep in a Cana­dian for­est, a very large, very an­noyed brown bear un­leashes a fu­ri­ous at­tack on two tim­ber work­ers, the an­i­mal push­ing him­self to ex­tremes and al­most killing both men.

While Wade legs it 10m up a tree in the be­lief griz­zlies can’t climb, his mate Louie is felled by one blow of the paw. The bear tears Louie’s scalp from his head, rips his arm to the bone and slices open his shoul­der. It will take more than two years and 16 op­er­a­tions to re­pair the dam­age.

Mean­while, Wade is yelling at the bear from the tree­top to dis­tract him. Un­for­tu­nately this works, be­cause sec­onds later the bear has hauled him­self up the trunk and Wade is also fight­ing for his life.

Bear at­tacks on hu­mans are ex­tremely rare, but it turns out they’re awe­somely equipped to make mince­meat of us. The pro­gram ‘‘ peels back the fur’’ to re­veal what makes po­lar, brown and black bears such mar­vels of bio- en­gi­neer­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal adap­ta­tion.

There are some fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights. The pow­er­ful thwack of a griz­zly’s paw is di­rected from an in­ter­nal back­pack of shoul­der mus­cle, orig­i­nally de­vel­oped for dig­ging earth for a mainly veg­e­tar­ian diet of roots, in­sects and the oc­ca­sional ro­dent.

A po­lar bear can smell its prey from more than 30km away; it uses its great strength to rapidly jack­ham­mer a hole through ice to snatch an un­sus­pect­ing seal rest­ing be­low. Not even a bull wal­rus can es­cape the talons of a hun­gry po­lar bear; rare footage shows a bear ef­fort­lessly slaugh­ter­ing the

A po­lar bear can jack­ham­mer a hole through ice to snatch a seal be­low

beast in a sea of blood and ice.

The largest bears, the ko­di­aks, got lucky. They were trapped on Alaska’s Ko­diak Is­land as the ice re­ceded and found them­selves in bear heaven: plenty of veg­e­ta­tion, salmon in the rivers and deer for sport. On this rich diet, they grew.

Black bears may ter­rorise sub­ur­ban home­own­ers by break­ing into the kitchen cup­board for a snack or climb­ing along a clothes­line to steal bird­seed from a feeder; be­ing the colour of night, they also have a canny abil­ity to stealth­ily dis­ap­pear. The doc­u­men­tary sug­gests the much smaller black bear may in­deed be the ul­ti­mate of the species. Af­ter all, it has learned to live at close quar­ters with the most dan­ger­ous preda­tor: us.

Bears can eas­ily kill peo­ple but rarely do, the film­mak­ers say. Mean­while, peo­ple kill tens of thou­sands of bears ev­ery year.

Clearly, it’s not a fair fight.

Born free: Ko­diak bears had the good for­tune to be stranded on an is­land

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