Got your attention? Blonde bears, that is...

“Let’s be really quiet and perhaps we’ll see one... Oh my god: look over there. There’s a big blonde bear coming into the sunshine!”

Of course, our Kenauk Nature safari guide, Olivier Maurais told us he couldn’t guarantee a bear sighting during the two-hour tour in this park north of Fairmont Le Château Montebello. The sprawling expanse of Kenauk’s woodlands that includes more than 70 lakes is excellent habitat for black bears and other wildlife such as deer and moose.

Howe'ver as we all know, Mother Nature rules when it comes to glimpsing wild animals. So seeing this golden beauty leisurely but methodically devouring a treat of peanuts and corn Maurais had spread onto the forest floor was incredibly special.

"Blonde" black bear at Kenauk. Photo by Eric Fletcher.
Photo by Eric Fletche

With binoculars in hand, and with my husband Eric’s camera clicking away, we watched the bear extend its claws. Using them like rakes, it dexterously separated peanuts from corn, then delicately picked them up in its teeth, munching on them with delight.  Because our attention was riveted on it, we weren’t looking anywhere else. Suddenly Maurais gasped, “We’re so lucky: there’s another one! Look over there.”

Turning around, we spied a second blonde bear walking up the road, pausing occasionally to sniff the air, perhaps smelling the cache of food; perhaps testing for the whereabouts of the other, larger bear. Excited, I captured an iPhone shot of it, right behind the Safari truck. Patiently we waited as this smaller bruin circled round our raised, enclosed viewing platform.

Oui! Blond Bear spotted at Kenauk Nature, July 5. Photo by Katharine Fletcher.
Photo by Katharine Fletcher

“It’s a young one who’s wary of the older bear,” Maurais whispered. As we watched, it emerged into an opening in the forest, below our platform. Crouching on its belly, it started raking the corn with its amazingly long claws to gorge on peanuts.

Because this bear was directly beneath us, we won superb views of it. Its back and belly were a lovely golden blonde – but its legs were red. Gorgeous!

Blond-red bear at Kenauk Nature, July 5. Photo by Katharine Fletcher.
Photo by Eric Fletcher

The two bears lingered for the better part of an hour, giving the three of us time to study their colour and habits – and giving Maurais time to talk.

“As you can see, blonde bears can be quite golden-yellow in colour through to rusty red. All are actually black bears.”

North American black bears can actually be black, blonde, red, white or cinnamon in coat colour, called “phase”. Indeed, a black sow’s cubs can be any of these hues. Similarly, bears of these other colours don’t “breed true,” either, so blonde females could have black cubs, for example.

Bill Nowell is General Manager of Kenauk Nature and he’s lived in the park for thirty years. He told us black bears are genetically the same regardless of the coat phase, noting, “Here in our Park where they are protected from hunting, they represent about 25 per cent of the population. Howe'ver, throughout Quebec they’re only about 1 per cent of all black bears.”

Go and try to see these amazing creatures for yourselves – with the backdrop of autumn’s palette of colourful leaves. Book a two-hour bear safari tour of Kenauk Nature by contacting them directly.

And, keep your eyes open when touring l’Outaouais’ wild spaces. A reader called me a few weeks ago to say she couldn’t believe her eyes: could she have seen a blonde bear in Gatineau Park? Yes, she could have, I told her, sporting my new-found Kenauk Nature knowledge.

Trois Pointes Cabin. Kenauk Nature, July 5. Photo by Katharine Fletcher.
Photo by Eric Fletcher

Extra tip? Why not stay a while, and rent a cabin on a private lake at Kenauk Nature? For Eric’s birthday, we stayed two nights at remote Trois Pointes cabin. We enjoyed sublime solitude where we swam and canoed Trois Pointes Lake. The pièce de resistance for us was sipping a glass of red wine at twilight while listening to the iconic, spine-tingling songs of loons.

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