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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

Ask A Bear: Followed By A Dangerous Bear?

Our resident bruin expert answers all your questions in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

Q: Why would your bear cousin in Alaska follow me around Denali National Park for days? He stayed about 100 yards away from me and never approached, but every where I went, he went. He never bothered with my bear canister, which I placed about 200 feet from my tent, he just sat and watched me the whole time. What's up with that?  Was he a stalker or just lonely?
—Gus and the Hat, via email

A: You leave a lot of open questions, so it'll be tough to answer about my cousin definitively. But I'll make a few assumptions: Since this was Denali and you seem concerned, we'll assume cuz was a grizzly.

Next, we'll assume you were following proper backcountry procedures. Given that you had a bear canister, kept it far from your tent, and seem comfortable with Denali's notoriously burly cross-country travel, you seem experienced.

Surprisingly for a place with so many of my kind, Denali ranks pretty low on injurious bear-human incidents, with only 23 since the park's opening, none fatal. Some people speculate that because the interior bears don't have access to fish and forage mostly on abundant plants, they don't hunt as much or aren't habituated to protein, but there's little data to back this up, as they have access to caribou and other game.

Since interactions are few and the backcountry is relatively pristine, there's a decent chance this bear doesn't associate humans with food. This is backed up by the fact that he chose not to mess with your camp of even try your bear canister.

I'm going to chalk it up to curiosity. We bears are wired to seek out and learn from the anomalies in our environment, and as such are insanely curious. You were a foreign presence, and the bear wanted to know more—but he also knew to play it safe and stay far away. Consider yourself lucky: You got to observe my kind at safe remove for far longer than even some scientists get to.

See? I'm not such a bad hiking buddy—as long as you and know about each other's presence and stay far, far away from each other.


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Nov 19, 2010

Griz would have been opportunistic -- if necessary. If he were well-fed, he was just curious. If hungry, he was waiting for his chance. I don't think I would have slept well, regardless.

Nov 18, 2010

I agree with Alan - you were stalked. If it was a Black I would be 100% certain. In our area Black Bears don't pose much of a problem but in ALL of the few stalking and stallking/attack cases the perpetrator was a black bear.

I read this completely differently. I assumed it was a black bear cause you didn't seem too concerned. Even if it was a grizzly I completely disagree BEAR this time - you were stalked as potential prey. Bears up there don't "hang out" with each other let alone other species for day out of curiosity.

Better safe than sorry right? That should be the position of Backpacker as well.......?? Hope no one walks away from this story thinking its ok to let a bear hang out with you on a hike cause he might be curious!

Chris S
Nov 18, 2010

Where are the pictures of this curious bear? Sounds like it was close enough to get some great shots!

John Sears
Nov 18, 2010

Anyone remember Timothy Treadwell? I don't think I would trust too much in my ability to read the bear's mind or intentions, at least if my life depended on it. The bear could have been merely curious, or it could also have been sizing up a potential food source. Better to take all precautions, stay alert, hike with others, and keep bear spray immediately within reach. And then safely enjoy the experience of seeing a top predator in its natural environment.

Nov 18, 2010

About 25 years ago while on a spring trek on the Snake River plateau of Yellowstone, I had a similar experience. A biologist we bumped into ID the bear as a youngest just kicked loose by his mum. The biologist felt the bear was probably a female and lonely but went to say that in a month or so the bear would become very evasive as it learned to be solitary.

Alan Fiermonte
Nov 18, 2010

You were "curiously" stalked as potential prey, pure and simple, most likely by younger less experienced and not overly aggressive bear(just yet)...but nevertheless stalked as prey. Bears do not expend such energy and motivation to be simply curious for several days. The bear just never found the opportunity or courage to take the next step...whatever that might have been...a charge, challenge, attack, etc. Consider yourself lucky to have had this experience. -Alan ["survivor" of frothy, harassed-by-other-males, starving-mad young bear stalking (for a full day) and several charges (at end of day) in coastal Katmai in summer 2000]

Nov 18, 2010

He wanted your flesh!

Nov 18, 2010

May 25, 2010

Sounds like a young bear that recently split from its mother. It was likely curious and lonely. Every overnight trip I have taken in Denali involved at least one close encounter with a bear. They never ran off scared or startled, instead they always seemed confident and self possessed unlike the grizzly bears I have encounterd in the Yellowstone area which seemed to me more elusive and wary near people (and scarier). I have never carried bear spray or a handgun in the interior of Alaska. Leave the gun at home. Its more likely to drown you in one of Denali's ragingly cold rivers. Good luck sleeping with a bear lurking nearby.

Gary in Flagstaff
May 21, 2010

I hope you had a firearm handy!

May 20, 2010

I see where the author is coming from in his conclusion but having some experience with both black and griz bears - I read differently into what you were and were not saying. I think you were stalked. It could be that he had not the right opportunity to make his move. Curious does not follow for days, hungry does.

Steve in Phoenix
May 20, 2010

What a great story and a happy ending too. I'm not to sure I would have been able to sleep.

James McBride
May 20, 2010

Having a buddy along would be very little deterrent to one of the great bears if it wanted to chomp your butt. The buddy might be useful for getting help in case of injury though.

May 20, 2010

Were you traveling alone or with a group? If your were alone in Denali, well, that would be just plain foolish to me. There wouldn't be much deterant at all if the Bear wanted anything, including you. If your were with one or more others then it would make some sense that it would not approach.


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