Drone Chase sprang out above all from place: the Great Bear Rainforest, which, according to their website, is “a global treasure that covers 6.4 million hectares (24,711 square miles) on British Columbia’s north and central coast – equivalent in size to Ireland.”
I always wanted to visit it, and what better excuse than needing to research a novel set there? Of course, to have teens pursue a bear-poaching gang, I needed to read a lot about bear poaching, commonly practiced primarily for selling the bile (a fluid that is made and released by the liver and stored in the gallbladder) on the black market. Unfortunately, some people believe the myth that bear bile cures almost any ailment, spawning what we know as “bear bile farms.” Reading articles about poaching and bear bile farms was extraordinarily difficult — at times, literally nauseating — but essential to making my novel authentic.
Is there poaching in BC? In 2017, National Geographic reported: “The fight to protect the bears of the Great Bear Rainforest is [not] over. There are still too few wildlife officers to enforce hunting regulations, which means much of the work will continue to fall to the Coastal Guardian Watchmen, a network of First Nations people who monitor, patrol, and enforce indigenous laws in parts of the Great Bear Rainforest that are too remote for federal or provincial officers to reach regularly.”
When I visited Bella Coola to research my novel, and to hike, explore, watch grizzly bears, and speak at two local schools, I was totally taken by this stunningly beautiful region. While there, I spoke with individuals who work with drones, park rangers who would verify the existence of bears referenced in the novel, and a veterinarian who would inform the animal-care scenes.
Most memorably, I spoke at Bella Coola Elementary School, where a student named Rayland told me his great-grandfather cared for an abandoned cub until it was ready to go back to the wild. I really appreciated Rayland coming forward like that, and imagine my delight when his father, Hank Bill, was willing to spend time filling me in on details of the cub brought home by his grandfather. Hank clearly remembers bottle-feeding and play-wrestling with the cub as a child and told a story that I would like to share as a means to close this post:
This was thirty to thirty-five years ago, in the 1980s. Growing up, my grandpa lived on Gang Ranch near Williams Lake, B.C. I was raised off the land. My grandpa lived in the old ways, cowboying and buffalo herding. He owned the largest buffalo herd.
One day Grandpa found an abandoned cub and brought it home. He was still nursing, so they made him a baby bottle. I was curious. He was timid at first. He looked a little scared. I took my time getting to know him. I’d give him his bottle when I was allowed. After he was too old for the bottle, Grandpa fed him fish and buffalo and deer meat.
I used to play with him while growing up. Me and the bear played. He was way stronger. Sometimes he pushed me and I went flying. But he never hurt me or attacked me. I’d tap him and run, and he’d chase. I’d wrestle with him. He’d grab me and throw me around. We didn’t really cuddle. He liked to go by the fireplace.
The cub stayed in our backyard. He wasn’t fenced or tied up or anything. He could come and go as he pleased. I followed if he went on a walk. He’d go to the creek and play and chase bugs, pretty much did whatever bears do. He’d make normal bear sounds: mmmm, rrrr, umhhh. He’d do his growl.
When the cub was old enough and off the bottle, he left every time the other bears went fishing. But he’d come back to Grandpa’s every summer. Grandpa raised him till he was big enough to return to the mountains. The cub was two or three when we let him loose.
Organizations that work against bear poaching and bile-bear farming or deal with bear conservation in general include World Animal Protection, the Humane Society, Animals Asia Foundation, Justice for BC Grizzlies, and Pacific Wild.