Yellowstone Tourists Chasing a Bear Is the Dumbest Thing We’ve Ever Seen

All newcomers to the outdoors make mistakes. But if you need to be told “don’t sprint full speed at a mother bear,” we’re sorry, but you are beyond help.

Photo: Troy Harrison / Moment via Getty

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It seems like every day, we’re treated to a new video of someone in Yellowstone making a bad decision. If they’re not leaving the boardwalk to put their hand in a scalding thermal pool, they’re trying to take a selfie with a bison, or taking their shirt off and chasing a wolf. But this video, of a group of tourists sprinting toward—yes, toward, not away from—a family of bears, might just be the most head-in-hands frustrating one we’ve seen yet.

While Instagram user @willspencer00 originally posted the video back in early August, it didn’t reach wide circulation until last week, when @touronsofyellowstone, an account dedicated to chronicling visitors’ bad behavior in the US’s oldest national park, reshared it. As the video begins, a mother black bear and her two cubs are foraging by the side of a traffic-choked road. Suddenly, the door of one of the stopped vehicles opens, and a person steps out. This seems to be the signal that the other visitors are waiting for: Almost simultaneously, about a half-dozen more get out of their cars and begin moving toward the bears. Two—a person holding a piece of paper of some kind, and an adult holding a child, start sprinting toward the animals. The mother bear ambles away, and as the video ends, the cubs follow.

There are many outdoor safety facts that a beginner might not know—that lightning can strike from a clear sky, for example, or that wearing cotton clothing can put you in danger of getting hypothermia. It’s the role of experienced outdoorspeople to pass that knowledge on in as non-judgemental a way as possible. But if you need someone to tell you not to chase a bear, we are sorry, but you are beyond help. If you know nothing else about bears, you know that bears are big, and bears have teeth and claws, and on very rare occasions bears use those attributes to absolutely ruin people’s days. From Golidlocks to Grizzly Man, our culture has an entire genre of stories whose morals boil down to “do not screw with bears.” While the ursine family in this situation were conflict-averse black bears, approaching a mama grizzly and her cubs is statistically the best way to get yourself mauled—and we’re guessing none of the people pictured in this video were bear-aware enough to tell the difference.

Of course, people rarely do something as beautifully, breathtakingly stupid as sprinting at a bear out of ignorance alone: a healthy dose of groupthink helps. One person steps out of the car for some face time with a bear, or bison, or moose, and when they don’t immediately die, bystanders who were still entertaining the little voice in their heads that’s whispering maybe this isn’t a good idea mistakenly conclude that it’s safe. In this video, it’s not until that first visitor gets out of the car that the dam bursts.

Surprisingly, the creatures most in danger in these videos aren’t the tourists running full-tilt at a group of wild animals—it’s the bears. When they come into conflict with humans, bears are almost always the losers, ending up so habituated to people’s presence that they end up euthanized, hit by cars, or relocated far from their home territory. As with most creatures, approaching a bear is a great way to put it at risk.

While running around a bear is never a good idea (if you encounter one, standard procedure is to make yourself large as possible and speak to it in a loud but calm voice) running away from one is an understandable mistake—the kind of thing that a normal, scared human might do by instinct. But if you see someone running towards one? Don’t join the herd.

From 2023