Family Feud Between Grizzly Bears #399 and #610

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Grizzly Bear #399 and her three cubs of the year of 2011 walk along the Old Wagon Road in Willow Flats of Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (Mike Cavaroc)
Grizzly Bear #399 and her three cubs.

It was the first morning back from a month-long excursion into the southwest. I still wasn’t adjusted to temperatures in the teens and my warm clothes were scattered between my bag and car, causing me to head up into Grand Teton National Park a bit improperly dressed. Regardless, I had a down jacket, so for the most part I knew I’d be okay. I had neglected, however, to check my battery life on my camera, and as a result, didn’t get much in terms of video, as my batteries died shortly after I began recording the following experience. What video I did get wasn’t very interesting anyway because of the distance from the event.

I had been hearing about Grizzly Bear #610 and her mother, #399, still being out and about in the park finishing up elk carcasses left behind from the controversial elk hunt taking place every year in the park.

A good friend informed me that #399 could be seen from a turnout along Highway 89 looking east toward a small hill. I parked, and knowing what I was looking for, was quickly able to locate her and her two cubs. I observed them for a short while, when I noticed her daughter, #610, beginning to head in her direction, away from the carcass she had been on. Another local and regular observer had since joined me and both of us were ecstatic at the potential reuniting of the family! The nearly unanimous feeling all summer was that if they ever did reunite, it would most likely be a passive moment as they observed each other, and would probably interact on a limited basis. Some of us, myself included, kept our hopes up for witnessing all five cubs playing together. It turns out we were all wrong.

#610 slowly walked below the hill, her cubs close behind, hoping for a chance to feast on some of the carcass she was watching her mother and younger siblings enjoying. #610 made a slight approach up and was immediately confronted by her mother, letting her know that she wasn’t as welcomed as she, and we, would have hoped. She submissively went back down to the bottom of the hill, roughly 20 yards below, and sat with her three cubs while they waited for a better opportunity.

Moments later, #610 made another attempt toward the carcass, only this time #399 had a change of heart and simply began running approximately 1,000 yards south to the carcass that #610 was previously on. #610 took this opportunity to immediately begin devouring the carcass her mother had just abandoned. It was a very sweet sight to see her mother offer up a carcass trade, but only a short moment later it turned a dramatic corner.

As #399 reached the carcass, she apparently didn’t like what she saw and went into a full sprint back to her original carcass. After witnessing #399 make incredible time back to the hill, she furiously crested the top heading right for her daughter. #610′s cubs knew something didn’t feel right and as soon as #399 was in sight, they took off to the bottom of the hill. #610 stood her ground and the mother and daughter were then trading blows as they fought over the carcass. We watched intensely through binoculars for nearly 30 seconds as the two grizzly bears fought, often both on hind legs swinging their front paws at each other, fighting over the prized meat. #399 eventually wrestled #610 away and once again, #610 submissively began to move on.

She never went very far though. She hovered near the carcass, occasionally making an attempt back to it, only to be charged away by her mother. Even one of #399′s cubs began to help out (we’re assuming) his mother, charging toward #610 on multiple occasions.

The action began to die down, and I took that opportunity to head back into town to take care of some business. I checked in a few hours later to hear that I hadn’t missed much, and they were all napping at the time.

It wasn’t quite the encounter we were hoping to see from grizzlies in the same family, but nonetheless, it made for an exciting welcome back to a place that I was growing more and more homesick for the longer I spent in the southwest. It grew even more so as I began to see that these two grizzlies still weren’t hibernating yet. Should the same patterns play out next year, hopefully I’ll come back with some freshly charged batteries.

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Posted on November 29, 2011.
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