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.
Got a question for the bear? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.