A Strange Thing Happened in Yukon

Jeff Wagner image

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun…”

This quote from “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Canada’s famous poet, Robert Service, suddenly had a new meaning for me on my recent trip to Yukon Territory, where Service lived. What started as a great photo opp photographing bears, suddenly became a mystery that involved one of my clients, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and one of Canada’s wildlife services.

Here’s what happened. Just a week ago, I took three clients up the famous/infamous Dempster Highway, en route to the Arctic Circle and beyond. At a point north of the Circle, we came upon a grizzly sow and her two cubs munching contentedly on a kill. A documentary film-maker on the scene told us that the bears had been on that kill for three days and the sow was so stuffed she could hardly move. Yet neither he nor I could identify the carcass, since the sow was literally laying on it and it was so low to the ground. We assumed the carcass was that of a caribou. However, that seemed strange since no caribou had yet been spotted arriving for their winter migration.

We stayed for about two happy hours photographing the trio and then continued north to the border with North West Territories. After a very long day- it stays light until about 11:00 PM that far north in late August- we slept well.

Early the next morning Jeff Wagner, one of my clients, pulled me aside to say that one of his images was a bit disturbing to him. It clearly showed one of the cubs with a digital camera in his mouth. Disturbing is an understatement when it comes to a large grizzly sow laying on an unidentified carcass and a digital camera is somehow tied into the scene.

Jeff Wagoner image

So, off we went to the RCMP headquarters in Dawson City. A young officer did a brilliant job interviewing us. I had fortunately noted the kilometer marker nearest the grizzlies. The RCMP made a copy if the image and sent it immediately to a wildlife officer near to that area.

In an hour we had our answer. The Wildlife officer reported that the carcass was, indeed, of a caribou, probably separated from the herd. The cause of death was not determined, but the sow probably came upon it already dead.

The mystery still exists, however. How did the cub come across a camera, with a small tripod still attached to it, no less? the answer to the mystery will have to wait until the RCMP completes its investigation. Like Service said: “There are strange things done in the midnight sun…”

… and a short postscript: If you’d like to watch a video of “The Cremation of Sam McGee” recited by the veteran actor Hal Jeayes, click here. It is simply wonderful!

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