I had a great week exploring Grand Teton National Park with my friend Joe Ford. Joe has a special fondness for what I call “megafauna”, and I fell into his rhythm of chasing bears, yet keeping an eye out for moose, elk, fox, coyote, and any other wildlife that crossed our path. We didn’t get pictures of all the large critters we saw, but we captured enough to make me happy.
I haven’t been able to keep up my accounts of our adventures because of the pace at which we’ve been getting out on our adventures. With this episode, we met American Robin, Barrow’s Goldeneye, American Bison, Chipping Sparrow, Common Merganser, Dark-Eyed Junco, Elk, Great Blue Heron, Killdeer, Moose, Trumpeter Swan, and Yellow-Rumped Warbler. But clearly, the high point of our day was our encounter with Grizzly Bear.
I learned there is a bear culture here, where the enthusiasts follow individual bears and their families. Of particular interest is perhaps the most well-known of all Grizzlies in North America, and perhaps the world. She is a 32-year-old sow known as Bear #399, and she has raised more cubs than any other Grizzly Bear on record. She has her own fan club, or followers that some have called “Club #399”.
When I met her, she had an unprecedented four cubs in tow. It really isn’t correct to call her offspring “cubs” at this stage, as they are two years old and nearly ready to begin life on their own. Most observers believe mom will send her progeny packing any day now.
With all her popularity with Club #399, it isn’t surprising that wherever she and her cubs roam, a crowd of cars, cameras, and spotting scopes will follow. I call it the “Safari Syndrome”, and I first learned of it while touring Kruger National Park in South Africa. The dynamic at Kruger began with one car stopping, then another seeking to see what the first car was watching. The pattern repeated until at times it was impossible to proceed along the road because of the log-jam of observers and wannabe observers ahead.
One difference between the African experience and the Grand Teton experience, is the modern electronic communication systems that let members of Club #399 update each other. When the bears were not in sight, the crowds usually positioned themselves at locations based on past reports and estimated destinations. If a report came in with a positive sighting, entire crowds would jump into their vehicles and race to join the crowd that were near the bears. The ensuing chaos that resulted was crazy. Sometimes there were no places to park when folks reached the newest destination. Sometimes park personnel would chase everyone from the area, using the “100-yard rule”, that no person should approach a bear closer than 100 yards. It was a circus!