ReWilding the Tourists — and Ourselves



It is the middle of the Canadian long May weekend, 2017, more or less officially the start of tourist season in British Columbia. Next weekend is the American long weekend bringing even more visitors. This is the time when roads get crowded with RVs, sidewalks are crowded with onlookers and people photographing sights. Hotels raise their prices and guests, in retaliation, find things to complain about so they can demand a discount. With visitors coming from all over the world, language and cultural barriers can be an issue. And late last night, before bed, I saw what may be an example of this.


I was reading google news and saw a video of a sea lion dragging a child off the Steveston dock, south of Vancouver.




The sea lion let go and the girl was pulled out of the water immediately  The article explained that people had been feeding the animal and it apparently mistook the child’s dress for food. By the time I was up this morning, the video and story were all over the news media with additional information about bacterial infections from sea lion bites, the law against interfering with marine mammals and various comments about the reckless family of the child.


Watching the video again, I was struck by how quickly the family hurried off, presumably to soothe and dry the child but perhaps also to avoid all the attention.The article said there were warning signs near the place of the incident and the family appeared Asian. Were they tourists? Could they read the signs? Had anyone advised them that animals/wildlife in Canada are often (not always) treated differently than the animals/wildlife in Asian medicine, cuisine and zoos?


Thinking on that reminded me of a video I saw recently about balancing tourism and wildlife in Banff National Park in Alberta.



This year, to celebrate Canada’s birthday, the Canadian government is offering free admission to the National Parks. It was mentioned that visitor education is part of the plan.


Visitor experience and education, about animals, conservation and environment is taking form in British Columbia in some unexpected places. The government of BC has licensed and defended grizzly bear trophy hunts despite the opposition of the majority of BC residents. Two BC resorts, Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort and Tweedsmuir Park Lodge are  noted as part of a “bullets for binos” (binos = binoculars) program offering free stays to grizzly trophy killers who turn in their hunting permits and promise never to kill bears again.




The Great Bear Chalet offers a similar program


We will walk without guns along the ancient trails of the Great Bear, GOPRO filming your awe & humility moment(s) if/when you share their presence on the river. Take photographs, make extraordinary memories, burn your tag, learn the truth about yourself, and these sentient beings – co-exist.”


Another source of conservation experience and connecting with nature is offered through the growing Aboriginal Tourism industry.




First Nations, environmentalists and other lovers of BC are “pulling together” to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion which threatens the southern resident killer whales with noise, and all coastal life with the probability of oil spills. This battle is in the courts but also spills into the streets. For those visitors who come across these demonstrations, it can be an experience of standing up for the environment.



Times are changing but is a slow process. This week we BCers all await final counts and recounts from the BC election which resulted — so far — in a “hung parliament”. Regardless of numbers many commentators see it as a rejection of the BC Liberal government and their environmental atrocities (as well as other dirty laundry). In Toronto a restaurant is accused of animal cruelty for dismembering a lobster while it was still alive. In Quebec accidents with horse drawn carriages have renewed calls for a ban on same, while they continue as usual in Victoria.


But let me ask you this. Suppose that family at the Steveston dock had had an appreciation for marine life. Suppose they had respected the wildness of animals. Suppose they had even known that the sea lion is a clan animal for some aboriginal people.  Do you think the outcome would have been the same?


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