We saw 11 bears in Alaska. Some a mile or two away and through binoculars. Others running across the road. And several from just steps away, in Denali National Park, which was breathtaking.
Following last year's tutorial on salmon, here some fun facts about bears:
- In Alaska, they're either blacks or browns. The rest of us know browns as grizzlies, but calling them that in Alaska marks you as a tourist. We saw 6 browns and 5 blacks.
- Another thing that marks you as an outsider is wearing "bear bells" on your shoes, which offer some -- but not the best -- protection from bear attacks.
- Browns and blacks don't regard people as food. So generally they will avoid humans.
- The best way to encourage a bear attack is to get between a mother (sow) and her cubs.
- The second best way is to surprise them. Bears do not like surprises. So you should be making a lot of noise as you hike. When they hear you coming, they will generally leave the area.
- Talking loudly is the best way to warn bears of your approach. Human voices are foreign to wild bears. To keep it that way, human contact should be limited. When our bus stopped for these bears near the road, we were told to keep quiet.
- Most bears are carnivores. After the last ice age, the bears in Denali were cut off from a key food source, salmon. So now the Denali bears are omnivores, eating small mammals and lots and lots of vegetation, including berries in season.
- A brown bear can eat 200,000 berries in a single season.
- Like humans, bears will take the path of least resistance. We took a long hike along a rock-strewn river bed, which was kind of a hassle to navigate. I found an easier path near the bushes and we quickly noticed a trail of fresh bear scat. So we went back to the difficult path.
- One reason sows are so protective of their cubs is that male bears will try to kill them so that the female bear will go back into heat and be ready for mating. The mother and her cubs pictured above crossed precariously close to a male bear feeding in the bushes (see below). We thought there might be a confrontation but they appeared not to notice each other.
Bears in the wild. One more thing checked off the bucket list. Alaska is generous that way.