A B.C. man’s unlikely photo of a curious grizzly bear-turned-photographer has gone viral on Facebook, garnering thousands of shares on the social media site.

But Jim Lawrence hopes that a once-in-a-lifetime image of a massive bear standing on its hind legs to peer through a camera brings more than just online popularity.

Lawrence, a wildlife photographer for more than 50 years, said the picture was snapped late last week when he stationed his camera beside a river outside of Revelstoke.

“The grizzly in the photo was fishing for kokanee and was making its way upstream,” Lawrence said. “I set up my camera to get a photo of him across the way, but I should know better than to guess what a bear’s going to do.”

The bear quickly scrambled up a bank toward Lawrence’s costly camera equipment, while the photographer dashed to his truck to find another camera.

What happened next amazed Lawrence. The bear stood up on its hind legs and cautiously approached the camera.

“For the longest time he studied the screen and buttons and with his big, long-nailed paw, gently tugged on the strap,” he said.

That caused the camera to pivot, startling the bear, which then scampered off – but not before Lawrence snapped a photo of the animal staring intently into the camera monitor.

Another surprise came when Lawrence, who rarely uses Facebook, uploaded the photo to the social media site on Oct. 31. Within two days, it received more than 4,400 shares from people around the world.

“It’s gone berserk,” Lawrence said of the photo’s popularity. Now, he’s hoping to use the photo to bring awareness to B.C.’s trophy hunting policies.

The controversial practice of hunting grizzlies is still permitted in B.C. during spring and fall , but has been banned outright in other provinces including Alberta, which declared the animals a threatened species in 2010.

“Ideally the ultimate goal is the government would be able to drop the grizzly bear trophy hunt,” Lawrence said. “These bears are worth so much more financially to the government for viewing.”

The photographer said the picture reflects the gentle, intelligent nature of the animals, and instead of hunting them, he would like to see people learn to co-exist with grizzlies.

“They can look after themselves and feed themselves. Their numbers, they’re probably holding their own here against all the odds. That takes a lot of intelligence,” he said.

Provincial biologists estimate there are up to 15,000 grizzly bears in the province – about a quarter of the North American population.

But other scientists claim it is nearly impossible to properly count grizzly bears, and their population could be fewer than 6,000 in B.C.

With files from The Canadian Press