When Whistler photographer Natalie Wannamaker warned a dog walker of a black bear in her vicinity on the Valley Trail last week, she said she was met with a simple assurance: Don’t worry, I’m a local.
“This one woman specifically, with a dog, took complete disregard to what I was telling her and starts screaming back at me that she’s a local. I yelled back I was a local, too, and that didn’t matter,” Wannamaker recalled. “She proceeded through the Valley Trail directly by these two juvenile black bears. One bear comes up face to face to the dog, and the dog was barking like crazy. The bear luckily didn’t get aggressive, but you can imagine how it could have gone differently.”
Wannamaker was near Nita Lake Lodge on the Valley Trail last Thursday, Aug. 3 when she spotted the two young bears “doing their typical routine: eating berries, climbing trees.” An independent wildlife photographer, Wannamaker began capturing the animals, letting passersby know of their presence. “People had taken notice of the bears and they were being cautious as well,” she said.
That’s why Wannamaker was so taken aback by the woman’s seeming disregard for the bears—and the safety of her and her dog, for that matter. Calling it a “forced bear encounter,” Wannamaker said the woman dragged her dog, on leash, within inches of the young bear.
“I can’t believe she brought her dog into the situation. Any animal lover would recognize that she not only put herself in danger, but the dog, the bear and everyone in the surrounding area as well,” she said. “It was so irresponsible I can’t even believe she did that.”
Wannamaker said she gave the woman an earful, before reporting the incident to the Conservation Officer Service (COS). The COS did not return a request for comment by press time.
Wannamaker typically uses a telephoto lens, which allows her to shoot wildlife from a safe distance—unlike the smartphone-toting tourist or curious local eager to get a shot of a bear for their social media.
“Generally, I find locals are OK, but in this circumstance, this woman was [using it as an excuse],” she said. “That’s not something I see usually. I’m sure there are more people with that demeanour—which I want to advocate against. The last thing I want to see in Whistler is someone get mauled by a bear.”
You might be familiar with Wannamaker’s work. Last summer, a video she posted to her TikTok account (@nataliesgeo) of a curious black bear sniffing around a woman at a Whistler bus stop went viral, amassing, at last count, nearly 650,000 views. She said she uses her social media as a way to not only share her work, but the proper etiquette around wildlife, too.
“I share bear safety tips with people on TikTok and people have been super receptive of the work I’ve done online,” Wannamaker added.