WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE
Imagine being one hundred yards from a mother grizzly bear and her two cubs - there is nothing but air and grass between you as you observe them foraging for food. Mom demonstrates how as she rips through the earth with her three-inch-long claws digging up tubers. The cubs are paying no attention as they play, swatting at each other with smaller versions of those same claws. Their play causes one of the cubs to tumble down the hillside toward mom. You watch as she reaches with those razor sharp claws toward the cub, only to stop it for a moment so she could gently touch noses in a tender way only a mother can.
This image captures the tender side of a grizzly bear, allowing an observer to make a connection with the bears through emotions.
Like humans, grizzly bears can have a different demeanor depending on the situation. A mother bear can go from caring and gentle with her cubs to a ferocious defender in a blink of an eye. As a wildlife photographer I am always paying close attention to the body language of the animals. If an animal gives any indication that I am not welcome, I leave-- picture or no picture. This is especially important when dealing with large animals like bears.
On this particular day, mom was focused on foraging for food, having recently emerged from hibernation. Although I’m sure she knew I was there, I stayed far enough away that she didn’t perceive me as a threat (I have a 600mm telephoto lens with a multiplier), which allowed me to stay with her and the cubs for about an hour. With her cubs by her side they seemed happy to have the chance to explore the world outside after a long winter in the den. The cubs will have much to learn from their mother over the next few years.
Bear cubs, like all children, are full of curiosity and energy. It was fun to watch these two siblings as they raced back and forth and all around mom. Every once in a while they would stop and wrestle each other for some unknown reason. This kind of play fighting with a sibling or mom is important to develop skills which will eventually help them to defend themselves. But at this young age they are very vulnerable to predators like mountain lions, wolves, and even other bears, so staying near the watchful eyes of mom is important.
For me, bear encounters are always special. Over the course of a year, I probably see more bears than most people. Most of those encounters do not lead to quality pictures as the bear is often too far away, sometimes too close, and frequently just a brief glimpse. This day was one of those “Goldie Locks” encounters. Not too close, not too far, and the bears just went about their day being bears. A memory I will always cherish.
In parting, I have to share one of my favorite pictures from that day.
Paws Up Everyone,
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www.leaf-images.com | Lea Frye, Wildlife Photographer | Helena, MT
Wild Animals / Wild Landscapes