YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — The weather is warming and both bears and tourists are out. And with them, the looming danger that park visitors will be tempted to pursue photos and social media posts over their own safety and the safety of others.
NBC Montana recently shared this video of a woman purposefully coming well within the 100-yard distance required for bear viewing by the Park Service. According to NBC Montana, the woman was warned several times that she was not giving a sow grizzly and her cubs enough space.
Check out this clip of a @YellowstoneNPS grizzly bear bluff charging a tourist that got too close. Darcie Addington took this from the safety of her vehicle. She doesn't know the other woman, but says several people warned her. Remember to give bears at least 100 yards of space. pic.twitter.com/7rnMgKGNxm— NBC Montana (@NBCMontana) May 12, 2021
By charging the woman in the video, the mother grizzly finally convinces the woman to change her behavior where others could not. Upon coming within feet of a large and clearly agitated mother grizzly, the woman retreated.
This brief video offers a glimpse conundrum faced by park managers who, despite last year's closures during the COVID-19 shutdown, are experiencing remarkably high visitation and trying to advise against foolhardy encounters with wildlife like the one captured in the video.
While bluff charges like the one seen in the video are more common than attacks, the woman in the video is extremely lucky she was permitted to learn from her mistake without injury. Only last month an experienced wilderness guide in West Yellowstone stumbled upon a grizzly believed to have been feeding on a moose carcass and was subsequently attacked and fatally injured.
Where the fatal incident had all the markings of an accidental encounter, the encounter seen in the brief video was entirely preventable.
Kerry Gunther, a bear biologist for Yellowstone National Park, said the woman seen in the video "exited the safety of her car with a mother grizzly with (two) cubs less than 100 yards away" and then walked within about 30 yards to try and take a picture.
"Most incidents where bears charge occurs during encounters of 30 yards or less," he added. "So that woman should not have been surprised by the bear's reaction."
Yellowstone National Park offers some of the absolute best wildlife viewing opportunities in the world, but it is a wild landscape populated by wild inhabitants. While the park's wildlife can appear placid and docile, they are unpredictable and can be extremely dangerous if provoked. It's that unpredictability that makes Yellowstone simultaneously alluring and, in the case of the foolhardy or inattentive, hazardous.
I spend a great deal of time exploring Yellowstone and each year during "bear jams," "wolf jams" or other wildlife sightings when traffic comes to a halt, visitors begin to leap from their cars, cellphones drawn, as they rush to see what park resident is out and about.
Last year, half a dozen such persons nearly stumbled upon an injured grizzly before being warned. The year before that, I had to warn several over-enthused visitors who unknowingly exited their cars and approached a grizzly on a kill less than 20 yards away.
If you plan to visit Yellowstone National Park, odds are you're hoping to see some of the park's inspiring and majestic wildlife. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with park guidelines in order to get the most from your visit and ensure your safety.
If you hope to capture pictures of the park's inhabitants, a cellphone is just about your worst option. Invest in a decent camera and telephoto lens combo, a spotting scope or a good set of binoculars. And have the self-control to deny yourself any picture or video that would lead you to encroach upon wildlife or harm park scenery.
Don't be afraid to invite people to get back in their car or back up. Social proof is a remarkably powerful influencer. The more people that crowd wildlife for the sake of taking pictures, the more likely other visitors are to follow suit. Conversely, the more people who encourage responsible wildlife viewing and invite others to give wild animals the space they need, the more other onlookers are likely to follow.
As demonstrated by the woman seen in this video, there will be outliers who refuse to conform to responsible practices. But in my experience, at least when it comes to wildlife viewing, a few conscientious participants who know when to speak up can greatly influence those around them.