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COLUMN: 'Inner scaredy cat' always wins in the woods

Photojournalist Kevin Lamb unpacks recent report on animal attacks and points out you're more likely to be killed by an elk in Canada
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When I was a kid, I always loved walking and playing in the woods at our cottage on Head Lake in the Kawarthas.

A lot of the time I would strike out on my own and before long, my general anxiety would flare up and I would suddenly be wondering what could be out here with me.

I would soon find myself looking over my shoulder to pre-emptively discourage any attack by a bear that would undoubtedly be lurking around just out of sight.

A twig snaps off in the distance. I stop in my tracks.

My fight-or-flight instincts begin to creep up inside my brain, but let’s be honest, flight will outfight fight every day of the week.

And, of course, it ends up being nothing, just the wind clacking branches together high up in the canopy, or a squirrel falling out of a tree, or something equally benign.

This has always been a real fear of mine, and it kind of still is for some silly reason.

The worst scenario I have experienced would have been when I was a teenager and I would have to walk or ride my bike back to our cottage after dark.

All by myself.

In a forest.

I certainly didn’t think that out very well when I visited my pals a couple of kilometres away along the lake.

I could barely see anything in front of me.

And there are noises.

I could try whistling to myself or something, maybe that would help.

But then I was reminded of my favourite comedian, Emo Phillips, who once shared his own experience with the whistling tactic: “You know how you’re in bed at night and your house starts making noises you don’t hear during the daytime? Weird noises, scary noises, like (whistle) or (rumble) or 'Emo, I’m going to kill you'.”

"I remember that song, 'Whenever I feel afraid, I whistle a happy tune.' And I started to whistle. And I felt a hand around my neck, and a voice said, 'Thanks, I thought I’d never find you in the dark'.” 

So, sensibly, I would quickly ditch that idea.

And, of course, I eventually made it home without being attacked or having crossed paths with an angry beast, large or small.

So, I wonder to myself now as to what the odds are of actually being attacked by an animal while walking alone in the dark in a forest?

Well, we now have the data. released a report recently that “analyzed datasets for human-wildlife coexistence incidents in selected national parks over a 12-year period from 2010 through 2021. These have been released by Parks Canada Agency.”

They also looked at incidents that were covered by local or national media.

Thankfully, Ontario is low on the list of provinces where animal attacks occur.

The lion’s share — or bear’s share, as this is Canada — happen in Alberta, with British Columbia a distant second. The rest of the provinces lag far behind when it comes to animal attacks.

Or should I say elk’s share? Believe it or not, if you add up the numbers, the four-legged ungulate is shown to top the list as the most dangerous animal of all in this country when it comes to the overall number of reported attacks.

Granted, nine provinces are indeed topped by bears, if you look at regional numbers, although they are few and far between and are much lower when compared to Alberta’s 431 documented attacks between 2010 and 2021.

According to the study, one person in every 8,600 people has been attacked in Canada by a wild animal in the 12-year span.

I guess I'm supposed to be relieved by this information, seeing that I live in Ontario, but I highly doubt that I will not be able to continue to peer over my shoulder when tramping through the woods.

In truth, we should be more afraid of disease-carrying mosquitoes or the clouds of annoying black flies that are about to rise from the mud and harass us to near-insanity this spring, rather than a furry berry-eater that just wants to left alone, but my inner scaredy cat will always win out and ensure my self-preservation.

I am now convinced that I have evolved from a community of gatherers rather than hunters.

Kevin Lamb is a photojournalist whose work often appears on BarrieToday.

Kevin Lamb

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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