Grisly adventures with grizzlies and their kin
Search for the Ultimate Bear 5pm, National Geographic
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