There are few things to remember if you encounter bears in the wild: remember that they’re more afraid of you than you are of them; make a lot of noise to announce your presence and encourage them to move away; never go near cubs if you can avoid it. What’s the protocol, though, when you’re pretty safe and secure— say, inside a car, watching a bear on the other side of a fence through the car window? Most of us would probably simply admire the wild creature and maybe take a few pictures. When the occupants of this car came upon a Kodiak bear – also known as the Alaskan Brown Bear – at the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, Washington, somebody definitely grabbed the video camera, but one of the women in the group decided to do something a little unexpected.
Yes, she’s waving goodbye to the bear! It’s a warmhearted, friendly gesture that’s also just a little silly and whimsical— pretty similar, really, to what a lot of us might do, since our “experiences” with bears usually come from cartoons or videos of them being adorable or innocently showing up in unexpected places. So her behavior makes sense. The way the bear responds, though, has to be seen to be believed.
Yes, like Winnie-the-Pooh sprung to real life, that bear’s happily and adorably waving back! We’ve seen bears imitate human behavior before, but this encounter’s really something special. What’s going on here? According to BearSmart.com:
Bears are very curious and will inspect odours, noises and objects to determine if they are edible or playable. Standing up on its hind legs allows a bear to get more information from its senses of smell, sight and hearing. It is a sign of curiosity, not aggression [. . .] Bears can be very social [. . .] The bears of a region are usually familiar with one another and meetings consist of complex social exchanges. Some bears like each other and other simply don’t tolerate one another in their respective home ranges – not unlike people’s relationships with each other [ . . .] Bears habituate, or become accustomed, to people just like they do other bears. Because plentiful food resources can be localized – salmon in a stream or berries on a mountainside – bears have evolved behaviour that allows them to tolerate each other at close distances. This behaviour is transferred to their relationship with humans. If they are not shot or harassed, bears habituate to people the same way they do to each other.
It looks like one of those habituated behaviors just might be waving. It’s a sweet reminder that there’s still so much to learn about our natural world, and so much to respect about animals we’re only beginning to understand. Since we shouldn’t seek out animals in the wild, even on nature preserves or in parks, enjoy the adorable actions via the full video.