I wrote in the guest log at the sanctuary that it was hard to put into words how I felt about my 6 nights living with the McNeil bears. Aside from the fact that those of you who know Paul McNeil and have heard his bear joke will enjoy the obvious irony in the name of the location, this was one of those life experiences that has no benchmark. It is quite simply unique. You can read everything you need to know about the sanctuary by clicking here so I won’t spend time describing it in detail. However, I will re-iterate that the bears are truly wild, there are no fences around the sanctuary and no fences within it. The reason they come to this area during the summer is to fish. Access is by permit only through a lottery system and the boundaries on maps are expected to be respected by back country travelers. The campground for visitors is the only area where bears are not allowed and I stress the words “not allowed” because there are no fences around it. Over time most bears learn to respect the imaginary boundary. Others are asked to leave politely by the guides! Bear etiquette is described in a previous post but at McNeil it becomes possible to really appreciate the rule of standing your ground. We saw bears as close as 20 or 30 feet away without any fences. Why is this possible? Because they are wild bears that are not conditioned to associate humans with food and the guides take care not to surprise them. If bears are surprised their reaction is a defensive one as with any other animal particularly if a mother with cubs is involved. With that exception, they generally only become a threat to humans if we feed them whether it be deliberately or accidentally. When this does happen they are usually killed although some are given one chance in certain areas through relocation and tagging. The people I spoke to says this rarely works unless they are transferred to an island far enough away such that they are unable to swim back. As I think I stated earlier it is why they say in Alaska and elsewhere that a “fed bear is a dead bear”.
Because I took so many pictures and couldn’t possibly select a few for the blog, I created a gallery here. I will also add a link at the top. The gallery may change as I have many photographs to review so please bear with me! It might also take a while to load depending on the speed of your internet connection.