A Calgary-area photographer says he could only shake his head in disbelief as he watched a Banff National Park visitor walk right up to a grizzly bear in an apparent bid to get a photo of the wild animal from just metres away.
"I'd say it was about 300 pounds — pretty big bear," Ray Blanchard said of the encounter, which he caught on video.
Blanchard lives in Chestermere but regularly makes his way out to the mountain parks to film wildlife.
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He said he had set up his own camera on a tripod about 70 metres away from the grizzly, which was munching on dandelions in a ditch along the Bow Valley Parkway on Sunday.
Another 20 or 30 people had also gathered to look at the grizzly, several of them quite close to the bear, which was behind a bush, Blanchard noted.
Suddenly, one person walked straight toward the bush to get an up-close photo, stopping within just a few metres of the grizzly, he said.
Blanchard said he sees tourists wander close to wildlife "all the time," but this incident was especially risky, in his view.
"Grizzlies can be very unpredictable," he said.
Parks Canada routinely advises visitors to keep their distance from wildlife, and last month launched a new awareness campaign with public notices throughout Banff on posters, signs and pamphlets.
Visitors are asked to stay 30 metres away from elk, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats when taking photos.
For bears, wolves and cougars, Parks Canada advises photographers to stay 100 metres away.
When taking photos of animals from a vehicle, visitors are asked to pull over only in locations where it is safe to do so, use their hazard lights to alert other drivers and not linger too long.
Parks Canada also notes it is illegal to feed, entice or disturb any wildlife in a national park. Maximum penalties can range as high as $25,000.
As for the grizzly along the Bow Valley Parkway, Blanchard said park officials eventually told everyone who had gathered to clear the area, but many refused to stay away.
"They drove away in their cars, about a block away, then they started walking back to the bear to take pictures," he said.
Aside from the risk to humans, Blanchard said, he worries about the fate of animals that might get cornered into a conflict for the sake of a cellphone photo.
"I'd hate to see a beautiful animal like that destroyed because of people's stupidity," he said.