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What Bears Teach Us explores the complicated lives of wild bears

“I realized that grizzly bears are so much more than data points on a map or a graph. When you spend time hanging out with bears you start to see that they have a lot of personality and they’re not who you think they are.”

CANMORE – A new book is taking-aim to dispel misinformation and myths about bears, while celebrating what makes the furry creatures unique. 

In her newly published book, What Bears Teach Us, author and Canmore resident Sarah Elmeligi explores what makes bears fascinating creatures. 

“What I really wanted to accomplish with this book is taking the science of bear behaviour and making it more accessible,” Elmeligi said. “The book is about the wonder and the diversity of bear behaviour through sharing the current scientific understanding of bear behaviour, and interweaving that with personal stories about how bears display those behaviours and operate on the landscape.” 

What Bears Teach Us shares the story of bears, including grizzly, polar and black bears.  

It is the story of bears across North America, Elmeligi said, the pressures they face, and how they share the ever-shrinking wild spaces with humans. 

Elmeligi has been studying bears for a long time. Her Master’s thesis focused on the effect of tourist viewing on bear behaviour along the coast of British Columbia. For her Ph.D., she focused on the human-bear interactions that take place on the trail systems in Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks.

Throughout her years of research, she realized that bears are full of quirks and traits that make them unique from one another. 

“I realized that grizzly bears are so much more than data points on a map, or a graph,” she said. “When you spend time hanging out with bears you start to see that they have a lot of personality and they’re not who you think they are.” 

Elmeligi said she grew up in Alberta, where grizzly bears are often thought of as untrustworthy and aggressive animals, but once she had an opportunity to spend time with them, she realized her preconceived notions about bears were not necessarily correct. 

“I’m out there working with these big bears and I’m like, ‘they’re not like that at all.’ I’m sure they have their moments, but most of the time I think bears are just being bears,” she said. “They can be kind and patient and loving and all of those loving things too. I wanted to write this book to show the other side of bears, the side that maybe we don’t know exists because we have these preconceived notions about who bears are and what they’re like.” 

The book attempts to explore the human-bear cohabitation relationship from the bear’s perspective, she said, in the hopes that people will better understand what bears might be feeling during a human-bear interaction. 

“When we think about the world from a bear’s perspective, we start to see that it’s not just an encounter with you and your off-leash dog. It could be an encounter with 50 off-leash dogs that day or that week or that month. It could be that the bear’s living in a really human-impacted area that are constantly being pushed around by people on the landscape and is trying to avoid them,” she said. “I think when we look at it from the bear’s perspective, we start to see a more complete picture and we might have a little more empathy for the plight of the bear.” 

Wildlife photographer John Marriott provided the photographs for the book. The photos were specifically selected to display behaviours and traits that bears exhibit in the wild as they are detailed in the book. 

Elmeligi said that she hopes readers start to think about the animals a little differently, and perhaps even reconsider their relationship with bears. 

“There are individual personalities with bears, just like there is with any complex organism. You can’t paint all bears with the same brush, and you can’t even paint all bear species with same brush. You can’t say all black bears are like this, and all grizzly bears are like this,” she said. “Just like you can’t say all Albertan's are like this. I think we all get our hackles up when we get generalized ... I think bears are just as individual.” 

What Bears Teach Us is available through Rocky Mountain Books’ website, rmbooks.com/, and Café Books in Canmore.