photography, travel, wildlife, writing

For the LOVE: Bears

“There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” — Teddy Roosevelt

Spring in the northern reaches of the Rocky Mountains means several things, but to me, none is more important and compelling than the emergence of grizzly bears. But I am certainly biased. They are my spirit animal. 

And for those who share the same affection for Ursus arctos horribilis, a mecca is spring in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

Since I don’t make very much of my income from wildlife, it’s tough to justify a super telephoto lens, so I don’t often get nice, tight images of the bears. But I enjoy it immensely none-the-less. Below were some of the moments I was fortunate to experience and capture this May.

Felicia pauses and watches the people who watch her from the highway nearby.

A solitary male grizzly wanders through the spring snow in Yellowstone.

We crazies will endure snow, sleet, and freezing rain all to glimpse the awesome sight of the largest land predator remaining on earth (except of course the polar bear). The childlike wonder is thick even amongst adults when we gather on a roadside together to witness and (sometimes) photograph a grizzly. In these parks, the bears are even known by name (or number).

I was fortunate to see seven bears (not all pictured here) in a ten day period… I “knew” five of them. And I’m not even one of the hardcore bear watchers! 

Felicia makes eye contact. Always a heart-stopping moment.

A tagged and collared three year old female high in the Absaroka snow.

Felicia keeps watch over her playful two year old cubs. They will be kicked out next spring to allow Felicia to mate again.

Grizzlies are some of the most human-like of all animals I have studied closely. They are complex. Sweet and nurturing one moment, brutal and murderous the next. In fact, it is quite common for mother (sow) bears to hang around roads for safety, as adult male grizzlies will kill her cubs to reduce competition and induce mating. 

One of 399’s cubs to be sent on its way in 2022.

One three year old bear I observed is one of the cubs of the most famous bear in the world. 399, an old bear by all standards at 25, had a litter of four cubs three years ago, to the surprise of everyone. This year, she cut them all loose. This is pretty strict grizzly protocol.

This bear was one of those four. Watching her, I couldn’t help but think about how much I hoped her mom prepared her adequately for life alone in the vast mountain wilderness. Her entire life to this point was defined by traveling in the safety of a family of five, enjoying the protection of mom and the playful company of her three siblings. Now, she is a typical, solitary wanderer in the harsh landscape.

Will she make it? If she does, she will join a growing number of successful Wyoming grizzly bears.

399 is known for her successful and plentiful progeny, so I comforted myself as I watched this cub struggle in the snow. I prayed that she would become another survivalist successor to her mum… Queen of the bears.

— Andrew

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All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2022

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