Bear 148 is turning up in the most unexpected places.
Two days after making headlines for chasing three hikers and their dog through the woods for about 20 minutes near Mount Norquay in Banff National Park, the six-and-half-year-old female grizzly decided to join in on a high school rugby practice at the Banff Recreation Grounds on Tuesday night, sending 80 players, coaches, parents and teachers scurrying.
A photo of the bear heading onto the rugby pitch with the teams, known as the Bears, in the background was snapped by Lee Garrett, who is the head coach of the Banff Bears Div. 3 rugby team of the Calgary Rugby Union and who also helps coach the high school girls.
Garrett sent the picture to the Bow Valley Crag & Canyon. In less than 48 hours, since it’s posting on Facebook on Tuesday evening the photo has been viewed close to 200,000 times and has close to 900 shares. More than a 1,000 people have also commented on the photo.
“I was just walking out leaving early to get to the men’s practice,” said Garrett. “This lady then pulls up in her car beside me and says ‘There is a bear heading straight towards you.’ I’m thinking it’s down the road somewhere … but I look and it’s literally jogging straight at me.”
Garrett said there was a moment of indecision on what to do next but chose to move towards his car. Bear 148 had apparently been chasing elk near the Bow River. Unsuccessful in her pursuits, the grizzly then loped between the ball diamonds and onto the rugby pitch.
“As I got to my car I yelled back at all the high school kids and people started screaming and the coaches were yelling ‘calm down, calm down’ and got them together,” said Garrett, who then took out his phone to snap the photo.
On the pitch, girls coach Cody Skrine said there was initial confusion.
“(The boys and girls) were terribly surprised,” said Skrine. “We just gave the bear as much room as possible, kept all 80 kids in big blob. … The thing with that is you just want to keep your head. You don’t want to provoke the bear.”
Bear 148 then moved towards several backpacks on the edge of the field and after giving them a good sniff seemed to lose interest in the scene and wandered towards Cave Avenue, adjacent to the sports field. The adventure though wasn’t over quite yet.
“It looked like he was going to cross the creek [which runs next to the sports field], and then three bikers came down the path. We just shouted ‘bear, bear’ and they just dropped the bikes and ran,” said Ian Holloway, who coaches the boys.
By this time, Garrett was on the road in his car and called the three women to his vehicle until the grizzly made its way across the road, up a driveway and into the woods.
Close encounters, such as these most recent two, with Bear 148 are not new says Parks Canada.
"She has literally hundreds of encounters every year with visitors and has not had a single contact charge or really negative encounter with people," Bill Hunt, the park's resource conservation manager, told Postmedia earlier this week.
The grizzly is what Hunt calls a "habituated bear," comfortable in areas occupied by people. Much like her mother, Bear 148 has become familiar with the infrastructure and uses crossing structures and wildlife corridors to get around town.
While she comes close to visitors, she apparently doesn't rely on litter or being fed by humans.
"That's where you cross into a dangerous situation," said Hunt.
Now with the encounter a couple of days passed even the coaches have started having fun following the Facebook postings.
“There is the Banff Bears and the grizzly bear factor too,” said Holloway. “And there were a few people who know what they were talking about, you know, like ‘That bear would make a great eight man’ [and] ‘you guys got a new prop’.”
RUllyot@postmedia.com with files from Postmedia Network