Sunday, February 13, 2011

Charismatic Megafauna

Black Bear photo by Ed Coyle Photography
Since the confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in St. Louis County, I've been thinking a lot about charismatic megafauna—or big, scary carnivores—depending on how close the animal is. Mike, from Slugyard, commented that he had never seen a mountain lion, then added that unsettling thought that he was sure that a mountain lion had seen him. He reminded me of something that I experienced. I've seen wolves and grizzly bears in Yellowstone, always from a vehicle. It's a different experience when you're on foot.
One summer my brother and I visited one of the most beautiful places on earth, Yosemite National Park. We couldn't stay long, and he wanted to sleep in, so that morning I decided to head down a trail by myself. I was anxious to see the giant trees, so I picked up my pace. As a jogged up the path, I stopped. About 50 feet ahead of me was a bear. The wind must have been blowing toward me, because he was unaware of my presence. He—or she—stood, grasping the trunk of a huge tree, tucking his head down. I should have been frightened, but something about the bear's posture was reassuring. He didn't seem like a vicious beast, waiting to pounce. He seemed to be hiding from something much more frightening than a bear.

Just then, three women appeared, walking side by side down the trail toward the bear and me. They were happily chatting and laughing as they passed the tree that concealed the bear. They walked on past me without a moment's lull in the conversation. The bear was still unaware that I was watching him, just as the women never suspected that they were watched. As they disappeared down the hill, the bear broke from his hiding place and loped away without a backward glance.

Black bears are quite variable in size in color. The bear I saw seemed to be an adult, but not a large one. According to Wikipedia, bears on the Pacific side of the US are smaller on average than those in the East. Like 91% of bears in Yosemite, his coat was cinnamon, just a bit lighter than the one in the above photo by Ed Coyle Photography, taken one June in Yosemite. Check out this pool of Flickr photos, The Yosemite Bear Project.


  1. Thanks for the mention! I had something similar happen to me at Glacier National Park about 15 years ago. I was hiking with some friends and backing up to take a photo. Another hiker stopped me, and said that there was a huge bear watching me from the other side of the hill I was backing up on. Needless to say, I stopped!

  2. You're welcome, Mike, I always enjoy your posts. I was fortunate because in my encounter because I had nothing to be afraid of. Seeing such an animal is unforgettable! Thanks for the story!