Ten Years Guiding with Grizzlies: An Interview with Eddy Savage

April 09, 2024

Interview with Bear Viewing Guide Eddy Savage


From the magical shores of the Khutzeymateen to the majestic mountaintops of the Kootenays, bear viewing guides serve as ambassadors for the welfare and conservation of the grizzly bear across British Columbia and beyond. 

Eddy Savage has been a bear viewing guide since 2013 when he first started working at Knight Inlet Lodge located at the southern end of the Great Bear Rainforest. He has over a decade of experience with grizzly bears and a Level 3 certification with the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC (CBVA). We asked Eddy a few questions about his work as a bear viewing guide. 



How long have you been a bear viewing guide? Where and how did you start? I’ve been working as a bear guide since 2013 when I started working at Knight Inlet Lodge. Prior to this, I was working as a kayak guide and a small boat driver around Vancouver Island. Something that attracted me to the bear viewing operation at Knight Inlet was that many of my certifications from other guiding work applied to the world I was going to do there while bear viewing. I had an interest in bears already, but no formal training and a very limited field experience around them as well.


Since then, where else have you led grizzly bear viewing tours? I’ve been returning to Knight Inlet Lodge periodically since I began there. It’s been a staple in my year despite working in other places around BC, Canada, and the world. Working with CBVA operator Bluewater Adventures, I’ve also done bear viewing on the central coast (Khutz Inlet, Mussel Inlet) as well as the north coast (Khutzeymateen).


Favourite time of year to experience grizzly bear viewing in BC? It’s exceptionally difficult to pin down a favourite season to view bears. But I would say both the spring and the fall equally sit at the top of my list. Springtime, we have the rare opportunity to watch breeding behaviour first hand. Males and females courting each other, the occasional copulation, etc. It’s a “dramatic” time to be on the coast as tensions can be high among individual bears and there’s a lot of space-negotiation happening.

The fall is also extraordinary because of the salmon runs. Having a high-density of high-calorie salmon return to the river systems results in a high-density of grizzly bears at these locations. It’s fascinating to see the “personal bubble” of bears shrink when there is a huge and readily available food source. The salmon run is also one of the worlds most spectacular migrations and the addition of grizzly bears at close proximity is amazing.


What does a spring bear viewing excursion look like at Knight Inlet Lodge? At Knight Inlet we use small skiffs with six passengers maximum to explore the coastline of Glendale Cove. At high-tide we are more likely to find bears spread out along the shoreline eating the spring growth of Lyngby’s Sedge. At low-tide we explore the same shoreline except the bears are typically down in the intertidal zone eating mussels, barnacles, and rolling rocks for small crabs, fish, invertebrates, etc. We might catch a glimpse of a breeding pair or trio, or a mom with brand new tiny cubs, or sub-adults, or adults. If there is an adult male in the area actively seeking a mate, all of the bears are on high-alert and can move around a lot more.


Describe a memorable grizzly bear encounter from one of your spring tours. I really have too many now, but one that really stands out is from an excursion I had in the Khutzeymateen with Bluewater Adventures in 2022. We went out to catch the high-tide in the estuary and from about 750m away I spotted what I thought might be a male and female pair. We approached gently and slowly, easing our way closer. Sensing no concern or uneasiness from the bears, we set-up to watch the rare event unfold from across an estuary channel some 150m away. Over the next 20 minutes, lots of dramatics unfolded. First, the male and female bear tried to mate. This lasted only a couple of minutes and then they went back to feeding on sedge. A few minutes longer, and theres a raucous coming from the forest followed by the sound of a splash. Both the bears were on high alert and watching towards where the sound came from. In an instant, a second male bear appeared climbing out of the water and nonchalantly walked towards the pair. The first male was uneasy, and then slowly started walking away, eventually stopping and looking back at the other male. The female bear kept busy eating sedge this whole time, and the 2nd male went over to the female and began mating with her. It left a lot of question marks for me because in a typical mating situation, you would expect the first male bear to be more defensive and try to push off the second male. However, the way it all unfolded in a seemingly cordial fashion suggested to me that these three had a previous social relationship. It seemed very relaxed. Pretty neat!



Favourite fact you love to share with your guests about grizzly bears? The piece of a bear's life that fascinates me the most is their social behaviours. Too often, we see stories, articles, and books outlining the grizzly bear as a solitary and unpredictable animal. I couldn’t disagree with this more. In my time working as a bear viewing guide, almost every social boundary I’ve read about in books or articles has been broken. I’ve seen ample social play among unrelated sub-adult bears, social play among unrelated family groups (2x moms with a pile of 4 cubs wrestling together). I’ve seen breeding pairs where it appears the females are doing the courting and defending of the male. Etc. Really, the grizzly bear's behaviour is widely misunderstood and misrepresented globally across most media platforms.


What’s a take home message for a guest on one of your grizzly bears tours? Grizzly bears are not to be feared, but instead are to be respected. A lot of bear-human interactions that result in a grizzly bear's death or human injury/death are preventable, and this is the human’s responsibility. Grizzly bears are just being bears, doing what bears do best. Humans are the variable in bear habitat and we need to be prepared to respect their habitat and natural behaviours in order to keep both humans and bears safe. I look at my bear viewing sessions as an opportunity to show people first-hand a different side of bears; one you won’t easily find out in society.


What’s something grizzly bears and/or bear viewing has taught you? A colleague of mine joked that my body language slightly turns into that of a bear when I spend a lot of time viewing grizzly bears. Standing on top of high things when I’m stressed, turning sideways, chuffing…you get it! Anyways, truly I have learnt respect and patience from bears. There’s a lot of waiting, watching, listening, and looking, and also recognizing that sometimes what you want won’t happen and that’s okay.


From your experience leading a range of wildlife viewing tours across the globe, what have you found to be unique and special about grizzly bears? I think the aspect that stands out the most about time spent observing grizzly bears is the notion that their ranges are typically smaller than you’d expect. Returning to the same estuaries, valleys, rivers, etc year-after-year, I get to see the same bears over and over. For example, at Knight Inlet Lodge, there are two sisters that I have observed each year from being yearling cubs at 1.5 years old to now having yearling cubs of their own at 11.5 years old. Their mother, who is now in her mid-late 20’s is also in the same area. It allows me to understand a fuller life narrative and family dynamic. I can’t say the same about other species I’ve seen around the world. Usually the animals we see are on a migration, or the sightings are fleeting. There is no other species I work with that I can have such an intimate understanding of their individual lives.



What’s one way grizzly bear viewing gives back to conservation? I feel a personal responsibility to leave my bear viewing guests with a heightened understanding and newfound respect for bears. The thousands of travellers who have spent time observing bears will leave with stories and experiences of gentle, mindful, and relaxed bears versus the bloodthirsty predator they are often described as. This alone will contribute, over time, to a different mindset surrounding wild bears and influence conservation decisions, habitat decisions, and ideally change the narrative of human-bear encounters. Another way comes from the travelers paying local companies and guides to take them out to responsibly view bears. Funding and attention from these establishments has helped many conservation projects and research projects.


In your view, what’s one of the most important skills or qualities of a bear viewing guide? A love and passion for wildlife and the outdoors goes a long way, but most importantly a willingness to learn and adapt to surroundings is most critical. When I first began bear viewing, the team I worked alongside helped me shape my safety, interpretation, and guest relations skills. I am glad to have approached that with an open mind.


Name one unusual/unexpected skill you’ve gained as a bear viewing guide. Delivering bear safety talks, discussing bear behaviour, communicating decisions to groups, and overall leading travelers on short or long excursions in bear habitat allowed for my interpretation and public speaking skills to rapidly develop. Clear and clean communication!


What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone interested in becoming a bear viewing guide? Prepare yourself for an extraordinary journey - Do it! My most valuable experience came from my colleagues. Working alongside other people who were interested in bears, talking about bears, talking about experiences, talking about different behaviour you observed… this is all so important to developing your skillset, so always touch base with your colleagues!


How has the CBVA supported/enhanced your career as a bear viewing guide? The CBVA provided a good framework for developing my bear viewing skills by connecting me with resources and mentors. It has also informed me of potential employment opportunities in BC and Canada.


What do you always have with you on a bear viewing tour? Safety Equipment - My voice, bear spray, VHF radio 2) Guiding Equipment - Binoculars, Camera, Notebook/Guide Log.


Name one book you’d add to any grizzly bear guide’s reading list. Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero. This book isn’t meant to stir worry, it’s more to truly understand what happens in an instance of bear attack or defence. It’s eye-opening and scientific, drawing from decades worth of bear attack information. It’s exactly the information you need when your travellers arrive pre-loaded with misinformation, myths, and tall-tales meant to instill fear of bears.


Bear viewing location in BC you haven’t been to that you’d love to visit. I cannot pick one! In no particular order: Great Bear Lodge, Tweedsmuir Park Lodge, Wild Bear Lodge.



Eddy Savage is a full-time year-round expedition guide and photographer based on Vancouver Island, BC. Passionate about bears, nature, and conservation, he has been working in Canada, and abroad sharing beautiful places and wild animals with eager travelers for over 15 years. In 2024 he’ll be heading to Sichuan, China, Iceland, East Greenland, the Great Bear Rainforest, Haida Gwaii, and Churchill, Manitoba. Check out his social media to see reports from each expedition!


Instagram: @eddysavagephoto

Facebook: @eddysavagephoto



This interview is part of Bear Viewing Tourism Gives Back #GoBearViewing, a collaborative campaign from the Grizzly Bear Foundation (GBF) and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC (CBVA). Together we are showcasing the role of bear viewing ecotourism in grizzly bear conservation and the conservation economy.  

Visit www.bearviewing.ca to learn how to become a CBVA certified guide CBVA member or to find a CBVA tour.


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