Denali hikers escape bear


Young problem bear/Betty Snyder

As the hunt continues for a sub-adult grizzly bear with an attitude that has been threatening people near the Savage River in Denali National Park and Preserve, photos have emerged of rangers saving hikers from the troublesome animal.

It first showed up near the popular Savage pull out in mid-June. Rangers closed the area temporarily that month and hazed the bear in an effort to teach it people are bad news. The effort didn’t work.

On July 1 , the bear attacked 28-year-old Fangyuan Zhou, who was visiting from Anchorage with two friends. Confronted by the bear on a Savage River trail, they made the mistake of dropping to the ground and playing dead, even though they were carrying bear spray.

When the people hit the ground, the curious bear approached, scratched Zhou and then bit her. At that point, her two friends jumped to their feet and start throwing rocks, which drove the animal off, according to park service officials.

People are advised to stand up to young grizzly bears, animals still learning their limitations. Young bears will sometimes approach people just to see how the people react. Betty Snyder, a visitor to the park from Florida, caught people behaving badly on June 19 until a pair of rangers intervened to offer professional advice on dealing with bears.

In the first of a series of photos shot by Snyder, a group of four people can be seen starting to flee as the young bear approaches.


Rangers on the opposite bank of the waist-deep river spot what is happening and start shouting advice.


Told to stop, group up and make themselves big, the humans cluster.


Once they do that, the bear halts its approach and reconsiders what it should do. As they become more vocal, it pivots away from them.

DSC_4765Intimidated now, it starts to slink away.


And finally it wanders off as the people push their offensive.


The photos are a lesson in how groups of people should deal with sub-adult grizzly bears.

Snyder credit rangers with saving two different groups of hikers while she was stopped along the Savage.

“It was amazing how the stand tall procedure actually worked for these hikers,” she emailed. “Thanks to the rangers calling out instructions to them.”

Snyder said she was on a tour bus that first stopped at the Savage to watch the bear playing with a Park Service sign in the middle of the ever-shifting glacial river. The bear was having quite the time wrestling with it, she said, but came out of the water to approach some people on the river bank.

When rangers intervened to shoo the bear away, she said, it went back across the river.

“After he went on shore, he concealed himself in the bushes,” she reported. “Some hikers (then) came down to the water not even noticing that the bear was right behind them….It was like watching a movie play out not knowing what was going to happen next.”

Snyder kept taking photos with a Nikon with a 300mm lens and caught it all.

“The people start to run, but the rangers from the other side are telling them not to run and to huddle together and put up their arms,” she said. “This was such a once in a lifetime event to witness. It could have gone very badly, but with the help of the rangers and the people doing as they were told, it turned out very well.”

It would be almost two weeks before it turned out badly, and then in part because the people involved lacked for experience in dealing with young bears, and there were no rangers handy to offer advice.

The Park Service now plans to kill the bear, but the agency has been hunting futilely since the start of the month. The park road from Mile 13 to 17 remains closed to foot, bicycle and private vehicles as the hunt continues.

32 replies »

  1. Reblogged this on Pop Rocking Culture and commented:
    If you’re wondering what this has to do with pop culture, keep in mind that the average person won’t encounter a bear. Really, what most people know about what to do when encountering a bear, they probably learned from watching TV or movies. But this may lead to misinformation, as noted in the article. And the photos are great — simultaneously fascinating and terrifying.

  2. As a biologist, the did every possible thing wrong. You do NOT try to act big with a grizzly. You do that with a cougar but NEVER with a grizzly. 90% of grizzly encounters are defensive encounters. You want to make sure the bear does NOT think you’re a threat. Please do NOT tell people this is the recommended way to behave as it can make people appear to be a threat. Simply because the bear in this case did not injure the people, it was not despite them doing everything that you should NEVER do with a grizzly.

    • Ward: they followed NPS recommendeded procedure. it’s not my personal policy, but that’s me. Tom Smith is crunching the numbers on what actually works best from a lot of attacks and will soon publish. that could shed some light here. personally, as someone who had to shoot a grizzly off his leg and who has experience with a fair number of bears – both black and grizzly – i don’t buy the idea that “you want to make sure the bear does not think you’re a threat.” that’s arguably the right idea if you encounter a sow with cubs at a close range (though i’m not sure on that either; one might just want to run like hell to open some space there and get out of mom’s crush-the-opposition zone), but every other bear i want thinking of me as a threat. i personally want every bear thinking “there’s danger in messing with this asshole,” and if they don’t think that, i’m going to pepper spray them or shoot them dead depending on what weapon i have with me. and in this specific Denali Park case, with a young, aggressive grizzly, i can’t argue with the park policy. a bunch of people getting into a group, hands over their heads or in their pockets, and looking like a big problem, then yelling at a bear, works. that will cause most young grizzlies to flee. i know of NO situations in which people did this and a grizzly attacked. the safety inherent in grouping up cannot be underestimated. but with all of that said, there is one qualifier: every bear encounter is a dance. you’re making decisions. the bear is making decisions. what’s right in one situation might not be right in the next. running is generally not a good idea, but if i stumble on a bear on a food cache and i’m unarmed, i’m running like hell. why? because the more distance i can get between me and that cache, the more opportunity the bear has to decide that “hey, i’d rather defend my food than mess with this dude,” and if the bear does run me down 50 feet away, he than has to decide how much time he wants to spend with what is now a non-threat to going back to his food pile, and if he goes back i’ve at least got a chance to crawl away.

    • it’s been tried and doesn’t work. the bear either comes back or, dropped in the range of another bear (there is no bear free habitat in Alaska), it gets killed. bear-on-bear mortality is the number one cause of bear deaths in Denali. bears kill far more bears than rangers.
      so your argument for “god wildlife management” would be to invest a considerable amount of time, energy and money to tranquilize and transport this bear so it could be dropped into habitat it doesn’t know (something that’s likely to be a little traumatizing to an animal) where it can be killed by another bear unless it manages to make it back to its home range?

  3. Been around bears for decades. Many encounters, never a bad one. Never believed in the play dead thing, except if you’re knocked down and have no choice, which has never happened to me. Young adults are best taught humans are trouble. I’m in charge. They have never been aggressive, just curious. And well fed. A well fed bear is a happy bear. I don’t have to fear a bear with a full belly, not even at night. Mothers with cubs are in charge, I always turn sideways, make sorry noises and slink away. Always been allowed to. Old males and I run from each other. I’m an old male. Somehow they recognize me. There seems to be mutual respect, something I don’t get from many humans.

  4. Visiting the habitat of dangerous animals is OK if you first find out how to cope. Having a gun is vital
    if the worst happens and you want to live to tell about it. Don’t go there if you don’t know the way to
    deal with emergencies.

  5. The bear hasn’t killed anyone, and there is no justification for killing it yet, arguments of “bear country” or otherwise notwithstanding.

  6. Don’t kill the bear for its natural behavior, have an experienced person accompany tourist on hikes.

  7. I don’t understand when people post we are in bear country. Are you saying humans don’t have any right to go into the woods? When was that law passed??? The woods are home to all creatures including humans. Just like animals in the wild protect themselves so should we. Humans do need to educate themselves about bears before entering the forest and we should also make multiple effort to educate the bears about humans. Deciding when a bear is too dangerous to continue to live should be a last resort but there are times when that decision is justified.

  8. The comments by Jane and Akgrngrl highlight the difficulties of “education”. You’re asking tourists to cram for the most important test of their lives by reading an NPS brochure 5 minutes before they enter bear country. I’m willing to bet the group that played dead did so because they read in the NPS guidelines that if you are attacked by a brown bear you should play dead. They got the bear right, but they mistook an encounter for an attack. Here’s a simple solution that removes all the guesswork: require all visitors to carry bear spray. If you feel threatened by a bear – doesn’t matter if it’s black or brown or male or female or sub-adult or adult – spray it.

  9. WTF???? Why would they now seek the bear just to MURDER it???? This is INSANE! What is needed is more education for people…or BAN the humans from the area!!! This is total BS! QUIT MURDERING ANIMALS IN THEIR OWN HABITAT!!

    • More education would be good, but banning humans is completely impractical. Once the animal is conditioned to believe humans are a source of food, it’s near impossible to decondition it. And let’s not get into how this does not meet the definition of murder.

  10. Thanks for posting . Great advice . We were there in June and read how to act if encountered , but I’m sure the real deal is frightening. Good thing the Rangers stopped them.
    Hope the missing bear can be relocated or retrained . Sad to kill him for being curious .

  11. Too bad they didn’t have/use bear spray. Bear might have learned a lesson about humans. Instead it seems to have encountered multiple groups of clueless tourists who did nothing to curb its curiosity. Now the bear will die. If you don’t know how to behave in bear country stay on the bus or in your car. It will be better for you and better for the bears.

  12. How does someone who is totally inexperienced recognize a sub-adult from an adult bear of any species?

  13. Wow, great photo sequence. These photos will have bear encounter educational value for generations.

  14. Awesome shots. I guess, since that looks like a real bear and not a big mechanical creature, that these photos capture what the shooter says they capture. I take them for real. Remarkable stuff. Thanks for posting these, Craig.

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