I was saddened to learn that a 15-year-old grizzly bear was euthanized last week in Yellowstone National Park.
And maybe almost as equally saddened to learn that the reason she was euthanized was because she ate a hiker near the Lake Village area in Yellowstone.
Hmm. As a lover of nature, animals, the wilderness and the mountains, it makes me ponder the magnificence and awesome power of all of those things. While humans continue to take over much of the earth, there are still areas where the beast reigns and we are just living in their world when we visit those places.
The older grizzly was euthanized after tests confirmed that human remains were found in her stomach. The body of the hiker, a 63-year-old man from Billings, was found about a half mile from the nearest trail. The grizzly had tried to conceal the body with pine needles and dirt for later consumption. The hiker had defensive wounds on his hands and arms, showing that he attempted to fight back. Park officials said he was hiking alone and not carrying any pepper spray.
Park officials say that once a bear consumes human flesh then it will have to be euthanized or removed from the park. They said this is not normal behavior for bears, even if it is trying to defend its cubs. If a bear attacks a human, they are not always put down. Park officials said sometimes the bear is taken deeper within the park if it is determined the mother was protecting young or felt threatened.
Her cubs were sent to a zoo in Toledo, Ohio, although it was determined that they too had munched on the hiker a little as well. But since they are young, keeping them confined in a zoo environment will hopefully overcome any taste they had for human flesh.
We have only ventured to Yellowstone once, about 12 years ago. Josey was a toddler and Josh was around 7-8 years old. It’s quite a hefty trip from Northeast Kansas, but one that was well worth the drive. What a beautiful and diverse country. It is a sanctuary for many species of animals, including grizzly bears.
When we were leaving Yellowstone we were excited to see three grizzly bears, up close and personal. Up until then we had only spotted one lone brown bear out climbing a tree several hundred yards away from where we were looking through binoculars.
This particular morning, a mother grizzly and her two little cubs had decided to munch on some berries along the roadside about 6 a.m. as we entered Shoshone National Forest. They were an awesome sight. The little ones were standing on their hind legs to reach the berries as the mother pushed the little bush from side to side, seemingly to allow her cubs better access. We watched for a while and another car pulled up. After a few moments, the mother grizzly scooted her cubs into the forest away from our prying eyes, much as I would have scooted my little ones to safety.
It was a special moment we carried with us for the rest of our trip home. Up close and personal with three grizzlies! Well, of course we didn’t exit our vehicle and attempt to approach her.
I recently read another story from Yellowstone, a woman and her daughter had turned their back on a buffalo in the popular national park to take a “selfie” with the big burly beast. When she turned her back, the buffalo charged her and threw her into the air, causing a few minor injuries. The woman told park rangers she just didn’t think the buffalo would do that.
Remembering back to our trip to Yellowstone, we were in a traffic jam for about 45 minutes while a herd of buffalo swide-swiped and rammed several vehicles in front of us. We stayed within the seemingly safe confines of our van to watch in amazement, but judging from some of the dents on the damaged vehicles ahead of us we weren’t sure really how safe we would have been if the entire herd converged upon our van.
The main message we learned was that buffalo are best admired from a distance. They seemed cranky and unpredictable and rather large to get very close to. There were many times where we were walking very populated trails and a buffalo was traipsing along as well. They have free reign of the park, but it seemed the right thing to do to give them a wide berth and not get too close.
Nature is a wonderful thing. It’s to be learned about, respected and even admired with a healthy dose of fear. I say this as I am recovering from my annual rashes from exposure to poison ivy, but at least it’s not a snake bite or a bear scratch. We hope to continue to explore the wonderful national parks in America while we can. We are not nearly as adventurous as some and try to stay on well-traveled trails — but, mental note to self: pick up a can of bear spray for next year’s trip to the mountains.