After spending most of this past week photographing Kodiak Grizzly Bears on the Uganik River on Kodiak Island in Alaska, my long-held perception of these massive beasts has changed radically My perception of grizzlies was formed when I was growing up in Santa Rosa, CA. In the 1950’s my family would occasionally go to dinner at the Saddle and Sirloin Restaurant which was owned by a local developer who was also a big game hunter. Many of his trophies adorned the restaurant and when I walked in, I would stare awestruck at the massive Kodiak Bear standing on its hind legs, arms menacingly outstretched. It towered over me and from my first glimpse of that gigantic Kodiak Bear, I thought of grizzlies as frightening, menacing creatures. I have discovered that despite their massive size, they are neither frightening nor menacing. Don’t get me wrong. Grizzlies are powerful wild animals and humans are no match for their speed and strength. If threatened or intimidated, they would be incredibly dangerous.
We had alert, competent guides who made sure we understood the potential dangers. We were fortunate that our two guides, Chris and Aaron, were able to slowly move the six of us closer and closer, only moving when the bears were contentedly eating, stopping immediately when they raised their heads. On several occasions we were surrounded by up to ten bears at the same time. I was never afraid and I was never worried that we were in danger. What a thrill it was to see and appreciate these beasts not as threatening but almost like big Teddy Bears. We watched their daily routine of grazing almost like cattle as they munched contentedly on native, nutritious (we were told 21% protein) grasses. We were struck at how much they seemed like dogs as they dozed in the sun with their heads on their paws. We chuckled as they rolled gleefully on the gravel beach or scratched the back of their heads on a log. What an experience. And I am so glad I have a new found appreciation for these wonderful bears. Kodiak Grizzly Bears are the largest brown bear and comparable in size to a Polar Bear.
By our fifth day, the bears in the area we visited had become used to us and knew we were not a threat. Instead of moving away from us, they sometimes approached us, not in a menacing way but just because they were not concerned. I took this photograph on our last morning as this sow we had photographed every day walked to within 30 yards of us. In this shot she is starting to move away but I love how she glanced back at us, almost as if to say goodbye.