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.
Intimidated 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.