Yellowstone National Park visitors in Wyoming witnessed a ferocious attack, in which a large, male grizzly mortally injured a sub-adult bear.
Tourists were drawn to the roadside area to observe the young grizzly male that had been frequenting the region for about three weeks, says Paul Allen, a long-time visitor to the park, and noted photographer who has a home nearby in Idaho.
Allen was photographing the young bear on May 22 when an older and much larger pair of grizzlies showed. Allen captured images of the subsequent attack and offers his insight on how it played out.
“I’m no grizzly expert, but I’ve been coming to Yellowstone to shoot photos for about 20 years,” says Allen. “I’ve seen lots of bears over the years, and I have a theory of what occurred.
Allen says the small male bear was near the road only 50 yards from the group of tourists and had no idea the larger bears were nearby.
“If the young bear knew they were near I believe he would have run away,” says Allen. “But the female bear surprised the young one, and she initiated the fatal attack, and it wasn’t a bluff charge. Bears have a superb sense of smell, and I think she was trying to run the young bear away. She knew it was her cub. She was being courted and mated by the larger male grizzly, and a female won’t actively mate until their young leave them. The female was fighting the young male when the bigger male bear showed. He is the biggest grizzly I’ve ever seen in Yellowstone, about 500 pounds, aggressive and full of fight.”
Below, you can see the sequence of the attack along with Allen’s commentary.
The sub-adult bear is fat, healthy, and oblivious.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the two adult bears had smelled the young bear (I can’t say for sure) because they were moving as if on a mission. Because the sub-adult was caught completely off guard, I assume he was upwind of them. He had no idea that they were coming, or he would have high-tailed it out of there.
This large male grizzly is estimated at 500 pounds. He was the biggest grizzly bear I’ve seen in Yellowstone, and I’d never seen nor heard of him previously.
While admittedly not the best photo, this is the mother bear initiating the attack. It’s an aspect of the story people find interesting and confusing – that a mother bear would attack its own offspring so as to mate a mature male bear.
I love this photo because it speaks to the action of the moment, even though artistically, it’s not that great. But the rolling female with feet up is a reminder of how powerful the big boar is.
It’s clear that the female is still engaged in the fight. This is important, because it dispels the notion that she was trying to “save” her offspring by just running him off. She was engaged. I believe her instincts tell her that her offspring have to be gone so she is free to mate again, and if she encounters one in the heat of the moment, as she did here, she wants that damn junior bear gone so she can fulfill her biological imperative. Many want to romanticize the possibility that she was trying to warn him away for his safety, but I have plenty of evidence that it was more than that. In my opinion, this was about mating, not about trying to protect her young.
This is a poor quality image, but it’s chilling showing the full charge of the female. She is clearly going after her offspring aggressively, not the big boar (which she might if she was trying to protect her cub.)
This was not the final moment, as the boar left the sub-adult bear after this and headed up into the trees. But as soon as the sub-adult bear moved, the boar charged back in and grabbed the young bear by the neck, hurling it downhill and behind a log, where we weren’t able to see anything more of the young bear. But this image is powerful, as it demonstrates the size difference (500 pounds compared to 148 pounds.) The look of resignation in the young bear’s eyes have proven heartbreaking for most observers. Look closely in the boar’s mouth, and there is fur and flesh and blood on his teeth.
Yellowstone Park staffed arrived shortly on the scene and watched the young grizzly for an hour and determined it wouldn’t survive the adult bear attack. They chased away the adult grizzlies, euthanized the young bear and removed it.
Biologists performed a necropsy on the bear and determined it suffered significant injuries, including massive head, neck, and spinal wounds, a broken right shoulder and a laceration in the right flank exposing its organs.