SIOUX LOOKOUT, ON — Sightings of bears on the roads of Northwestern Ontario are common this time of year, but it's not often you meet one that's anxious to get up close and personal.
Vicki Jacobsen of Sioux Lookout had that experience this month on Highway 72.
In the past, bears she's encountered on the road have run off into the bush before she could start recording video.
This time she had more than enough time to document the incident.
"This bear was just sitting on the highway. He had no interest in moving. As soon as I slowed down he got up and came over to my car," Jacobsen said in a recent interview.
After inspecting the vehicle, the bear came right up to the driver's side window, stood up and poked at it while Jacobsen kept recording with only a pane of glass separating them.
At this point she was reluctant to drive away out of fear of injuring the animal in the process.
"I started honking my horn because I really wanted him to just go into the bush and not get hit by the car."
The horn had no effect.
Jacobson said she was never frightened but it still came as a shock to realize a bear was looking in her window.
"In my whole life living up here I've never been this close to a bear...I really appreciate our nature and our animals, so I wasn't particularly scared. I felt that as long as my window wasn't open I was good."
She said it was fortunate that her dog slept right through the incident, because otherwise "he would have lost it."
Jacobson estimates that the incident lasted less than five minutes, after which the bear walked to the other side of the road and stopped traffic coming from the other direction.
Thinking that the bear needed to be relocated to a safer area, she took note of where she was on the highway, and passed the location on to a conservation officer she spotted on the way back to Sioux Lookout.
He told her the bear was probably starving, and immediately set off to investigate.
Matt Werner, a wildlife technician with the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry in Thunder Bay, has examined Jacobson's video.
He estimates the bear is about four years old, and notes that its body condition was somewhat poor, most likely from a depletion of food sources last year due to drought-like conditions.
Judging from its interaction with people on the highway, it appears to have become habituated to humans.
Wermer said the ministry discourages the public from feeding bears or even stopping to take photos.
"With this particular bear, I think maybe one or two motorists stopped and threw some food at him, and now it's approaching vehicles to get some food. If we stop that behaviour, hopefully the bear will revert to its natural instinct and go back to the bush for food."MNDMNRF technicians from Sioux Lookout have visited this spot on the highway and removed some garbage in an effort to dissuade the bear from coming back, as he's already been identified as a repeat offender.
Werner said interacting with bears increases the risk of a collision, so motorists who spot them on the road should just slow down and continue on their way.
As for Jacobson, she said she won't be so inclined to pull over the next time she sees a bear on the highway.