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On this inspection tour of Yellowstone National Park one of the items on our checklist was to see how bears were doing. Were they prevalent. Were they happy. Did they have nice glossy coats, did they appear well fed. What was their disposition. Did they still have a predilection to eat foreign or domestic tourists who go too close, or flashed them with their flash cameras while they were busy doing bear stuff. Did they have the normal amount of offspring with them. This pertained mostly to the female bears as the male bears had the rather disturbing tendency to eat the cubs. We had many questions to answer and precious little time to ask them, as most bears are reluctant to be interviewed even if it’s for a good cause. So we tried to make the best use of our limited time with them.
We chose to limit our observations to free range bears and not include any of those in the various cages scattered around the boundaries of the park. Cages tend to change the personalities and physical characteristics of the bears, making them fat and goofy, performing stunts and behaviors that they normally would never do in the wild. You will never see a bear, either black or grizzly, we are not certain about Polar bears but since there aren’t any in the park it doesn’t matter, smoking a king-size mentholated cigarette in the wild. Come to think of it we have never seen a bear, either black or grizzly smoking one in a cage either, but the caged ones tend to do equally goofy things so the analogy, though weak and possibly irrelevant, still holds. The Institute has taken a strong position on this situation and that is we do not condone putting bears, or most any other living things in cages. If asked to do so, we just say no.
Access to bears is kind of tricky. Sometimes they will walk right up to you and rifle through your pockets looking for stray food items you might have left in one of your front pockets and other times they can be reclusive and non-communicative, ready to lash out and tear the legs off your tripod. This is when its best not to get too close, instead just call out your questions in a firm but distance voice.
As a recorder of bear behavior one must always have your camera ready even if it means photographing the bear through the keyhole, as it were. Just the because the bear is standoffish and reluctant to have its picture taken we all know that it is for its own good and if the image is Photoshopped properly the bear will come to accept it and perhaps even cherish it later on.
That’s what’s happening here. This was an uncooperative black bear that simply refused all offers of doing an interview as if it simply didn’t care that we had a job to do. Instead it chose to go off and stand behind some foliage. Foliage is the bane of all wildlife photographers. Bears know this and will often use foliage to screw up a picture-taking opportunity. They have the most uncanny ability to position themselves where errant pieces of foliage will obscure the more photogenic parts of their bodies, like their eyes or noses, or when they open their mouths to snarl a piece of branch or leaf will be right where it can goof up the picture the best. The bears take great delight in doing this and will lure the photographer into shooting it and then move itself into the worst position possible. Many times in the heat of the moment the photographer will not realize the wily bear has done this and doesn’t see how cleverly disruptive the bear was until they get back home and see their images on the computer and find that in every single one of the best pictures taken there is a piece of foliage where it shouldn’t be.
If you look really closely at the bear in the image above you will notice telltale laugh lines around its muzzle. These are caused by the bear knowing the frustration it has caused and it likes it. We were incredibly fortunate in this image to catch the bear just before it found a piece of foliage to get behind. But then we’re experts and have to win once in a while.
All in all the bears seem to be doing well and we were able to check off that item on our checklist. They were plentiful and we were fortunate enough to see and photograph two to three different bears a day.
In fact it was almost as if they wanted their pictures taken. Bears are mysterious creatures, you never know what’s going through their minds unless they’re attacking you, then it’s pretty clear. We had other items on our list and couldn’t spend all our time with bears so we left this bear and continued on our mission to completely inspect the park.
Note : To those of you tuning in late the following posts will catch you up on preceding events. There is no extra charge for this service it is included in the cost of admission. We know you don’t want to miss a minute of our fascinating but undocumented report.