Written by: Jenny
This year it was all about sows and their cubs during our annual camping trip to Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve where we go to spend time among the brown bears. We are usually lucky to spot cubs on 3 or 4 occasions over the course of our 10-day visit. This time there were 1 to 4 family groups every day!
Watching new mothers and their cubs is more fun than just about any activity I know. The most engrossing drama or heart-stopping thriller is nothing compared to the stories that play out mere yards away. With all this action, a few “stars” are bound to emerge.
(Check out this You Tube video that proves brown bears really can climb trees:)
Our favorite from the 2015 Katmai bears season was a gorgeous long-legged blonde (it’s always the blondes, isn’t it?) with big furry ears, bear 128, known as Grazer. We were thrilled at Grazer's return, and to see she was a first-time mom with 3 spring cubs. There was the cute little runt, a black “middle-child” cub, and the successful over-achiever who was at least 3 times the size of the runt.
Hell Hath no Fury Like a Mama Bear
Before the salmon started running in the river where the bears feed, Grazer decided to stake her claim to a good fishing spot. She chose one near ample trees where she could hide her cubs quickly and easily when threatened. The life of a new bear mom is not for the faint of heart. The males will attack and kill the cubs so they can mate with the females again. Life in bear country is not exactly an episode of The Brady Bunch, and I felt for all the weary and ferocious bear mamas defending their young.
Once Grazer had chosen her fishing spot she proceeded to take on any male that came within a 50 to 75-yard radius. First she would chase her cubs up a sturdy tree, sometimes climbing up after them herself to ensure their safety. With her precious bear cubs safely hidden from harms way, she would then charge at the offending male, teeth bared and claws slashing. One day we watched her successfully attack and drive off 4 large males, including the alpha male 747.
Unfortunately, she was becoming progressively more stressed, exhausted, and hungry. The fish still weren’t running, and she was ravenous with 3 hungry cubs to nurse. But by the fifth day Grazer had secured her position of power, and when the fish finally arrived all the males were giving her a respectfully wide berth.
(For a great video of one of Grazer's fights, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e69h5csPSo8)
I caught an especially funny moment when Grazer’s middle child fell out of the tree he’d been hiding in. Mama hardly noticed the fall!
The cubs have definitely had an action-packed summer so far. This recent Washington Post article highlighted a video shot of the Grazer’s cubs tumbling over the waterfall as she rushed to pull them to safety. Ah, just another day in Katmai—never dull!
Check back next week for more Katmai bears, adventures, and pictures...
Happy trails, Jenny