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Doug Smith, Wolf Expert, Snaps Grizzly Bear Close Encounter In Yellowstone National Park (PHOTO)

09/10/2012 12:56 pm ET
grizzly bear photo doug smith

Most people haven't come face-to-face with a hungry grizzly bear and lived to tell the tale, let alone snap a photo. But to his credit, Doug Smith did happen to be airborne at the time.

Smith, a biologist and leader of Yellowstone National Park's wolf project, was tracking a pack of about 50 wolves from the air in Hayden Valley earlier this month when he spotted a large bull bison carcass being attended to by a grizzly bear. He had his pilot sweep in for a closer look and managed to take this amazing picture.

The grizzly bear looks straight into the camera, hitting the viewer with a remarkable, dead-on stare. Smith told KTVQ that the pack of wolves was hanging well behind the bear, patiently waiting its turn at the carcass.

But the bison probably wasn't the grizzly bear's kill. According to Smith, male bison fight each other for mating rights at this time of year, and the carcass was likely the result of such a contest. So far this season, four bulls have been found dead in the park from rutting.

Smith reported the bear sighting to park rangers, who closed the Alum Creek trail as a precaution.

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grizzly bear doug smith staredown

Once extirpated from Yellowstone and listed as endangered in the lower 48 United States, wolves were reintroduced to the park in the mid-1990s. They are making a slow recovery, but one that has had no small impact on the park's ecology.

Grizzlies are also a threatened species, having lost much of their historic range due to hunting and habitat loss.

In a 2011 interview, Smith described the often adversarial relationship between grizzlies and wolves in Yellowstone. According to Smith, grizzlies will sometimes wander close to wolf dens, attracted by the smell of kills that alpha wolves bring back for their young.

Grizzles also sometimes help themselves to wolf kills. Even if a grizzly is outnumbered by wolves, its size will keep the competition at bay.

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