The Bear Nobody Knows

Ralph W. Young cuenta su experiencia con los osos en Alaska para la revista Outdoor Life, del año 1957. Algo para saber sobre Admiralty Island al final…

Because so few people have studied Alaska brown-bear behavior, the field is full of tall tales and legends. One of the most persistent stories about these animals is that they catch salmon by swatting the fish out of the creeks with their paws. I´d like to see a picture of a bear doing this; in fact I´d be willing to make a wager that no one can show me an unfaked, unretouched photograph of a brown bear tossing a salmon out of a creek with its paws. Of course I may be sticking my neck out making such a wager, for I could never preclude the possibility of a brownie doing something no other bear has done before.
I´ve been studying Alaska brown bears for more than 25 years. They are highly intelligent beasts. Each is an individual, alike and yet unlike others of its breed. It´s impossible and even dangerous to generalize on the behavior of any one of them. A brownie may panic at the sight or scent of a man 100 times, but on the next occasion may boil back in a deadly charge. As a professional hunter who´s been in on the kill of hundreds of bears, I’m alive today because I take nothing for granted concerning bear behavior.

At times bears do strange things. One summer I guided a California surgeon on an expedition to Alaska´s Admiralty Island to photograph brownies. During the trip, we concealed ourselves in a crude blind facing a stream where salmons were spawning; hoping to get some films of bears fishing. We´d just finished eating lunch when an average-size brownie appeared upstream ambling in our direction, obviously looking for a fish dinner. The bear acted no differently than a thousand other bears I’ve seen in similar circumstances, until it came abreast of our blind.
Then it did one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen or heard of an animal doing. Acting as though it knew it was performing before an appreciative audience, it deliberately clutched a very dead and putrid salmon in its paw, stood erect on its hind legs, and meticulously wiped its face and neck with the fish, using it as a man would use a wash rag.
I don´t consider the Alaska brown bear a dangerous animal in the sense that a rogue elephant or man-eating tiger is dangerous. Either of these animals will hunt and kill a man without provocation –a thing I’ve never known a brown bear to do. Of course provocation is a big word, and can mean many different things.
Basically, the brownie is a gentleman. Its chief concern in life is survival or, more simply, getting enough to eat. It has no inclination to roam ferociously through the wilderness, or to seek trouble in the accepted story-book manner. But even the best-behaved bears sometimes kick over the traces, and give the whole ursine family a bad name. The two types of bears most likely to step out of character are immature boars, and sows with cubs.
A young brownie of either sex is usually unstable but the bear particularly is likely to consider himself a tough guy. He loves to strut and swagger, and has the instincts of a hoodlum. He´s also a great bluffer, but you can never be sure when he´s bluffing and when he isn´t. Whenever I meet one at close range, I treat him with deference and respect, always keeping my rifle at the ready. A touchy situation can develop when a man meets an immature boar on a stretch of salmon creek that the bear considers his exclusive fishing preserve. Frequently the bear will try to drive away the two-legged intruder by running toward him in a manner that suggests a charge. These pseudo attacks often look very realistic, and it takes an experienced bear hunter to tell a real attack from a bluff. He´d better be able to, if he wants to live long.
Two years ago I was guiding a hunter on Baranof Island and we met a young boar brownie that may have been bluffing, but I don´t think he was. We were wading up a small creek when we saw a bear standing in mid-stream eating a salmon. We didn’t want him for a trophy, so we continued walking toward him, making plenty of unnecessary racket to scare him away. The bear was obviously displeased at being disturbed, but he left his meal and reluctantly walked up onto the riverbank, where he sat down… (Outdoor Life. August, 1957, en venta.)
Outdoor Life, August, 1957
Outdoor Life, August, 1957
Para saber
Admiralty Island es una isla en el archipiélago de Alexander en el sudeste de Alaska. La mayor parte de Admiralty Island, más de 3.860 km2, está ocupada por un área salvaje protegida. Estas tierras constituyen el hábitat para especies como los osos marrones, las águilas calvas y el ciervo Sitka. Admiralty Island fue nombrada así por George Vancouver en honor a sus empleadores de la marina real. Joseph Whidbey, capitán del Discovery durante la expedición a Vancourver, la exploró en 1794.
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A Great War Reporter and his Last Battle, Robert Capa´s death in Indochina. Life magazine, 1954
Alben W. Barkley, Former vice-president tells his own story. The Saturday Evening Post, April 17, 1954

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