Distribution Source: Hulu.com
Content Source: Exhibition Wild
Length: 45 minutes, 57 seconds
Link: 800 Pound Best Friend
Earlier today I came across the story of Casey Anderson, a man who apparently is "best friends" with a grizzly bear. The two spend time with each other daily, and the bear - perhaps ominously named Brutus - was Casey's best man and attended his recent wedding (you can find the wedding picture here). Brutus stands 7 ft. 8 in. and weighs over 800 pounds - and is still only an adolescent. This alone seemed ridiculous enough to merit further research.
I quickly confirmed that Casey was not the same person as Timothy Treadwell, the ill-fated "Grizzly Man" notorious for approaching and even touching wild bears in their native habitat. Unfortunately, he and his girlfriend were mauled to death and partially eaten by at least one grizzly in Alaska in 2003. So given this gory tragedy, why would Casey - a naturalist trained to know and understand the serious risks posed by grizzlies - befriend what I consider to be one of the most awe-inspiring and terrifying animals on the planet?
The story begins with young bearcub Brutus, who was born on an overpopulated wildlife preserve. He was therefore likely to be euthanized - there simply wasn't enough room for more grizzlies. So Casey saved Brutus by creating a bear sanctuary in Montana, and has raised him ever since. As Casey describes it, the difference between his story and Timothy's is simple: he would never come close to wild grizzlies. Brutus has grown up with Casey and recognizes him as his keeper and source of food. The cool part about having a large, well-trained grizzly bear (he can even give high fives) is that Casey can measure things like strength, speed and agility without having to risk an encounter with a wild grizzly. (He stays at least 100 yards away when tracking wild grizzlies.) In my opinion it is still outrageous to continually put yourself in such close contact with a grizzly bear, albeit a domesticated one. He is, however, using Brutus to educate people about grizzlies and more broadly about the impact of humans on the natural habitats of wildlife.
One look at the statistics on these animals is enough to send you running in the opposite direction... Not that you'd get away - grizzlies can in three strides reach a speed of 40 mph, equal to the speed of a race horse. Their sense of smell is seven times stronger than that of a bloodhound. Wild grizzlies have claws up to four inches long, to go along with dinner-plate sized paws. They have to eat 20,000 calories per day to sustain themselves. And the most incredible statistic? Grizzlies have a bite force of 1,200 pounds per square inch, enough to crush a bowling ball. Yes, a bowling ball. Ouch.
Apparently there used to be 100,000 grizzlies throughout North America. After decades of hunting and habitat destruction, only 1,500 grizzlies remain in the lower 48 states, of which 600 live in Yellowstone National Park. While still at very low levels, this is better than the all-time low of 200 bears in Yellowstone during the 1970s. At the time, bears had taken to eating from garbage dumps, which quickly became one of their primary food sources. The authorities subsequently decided to remove the garbage dumps. Ill-equipped to fend for themselves, the bears became more aggressive and human-bear incidents increased, resulting in the euthanization or removal of 200 grizzlies. Since the 1970s, the bears have returned to their natural food sources: roots, bulbs, rodents, leftover carcasses, salmon and other fish, and millions and millions of moths. One bear eats up to 40,000 miller moths in one day.
While it is certainly positive that the number of Yellowstone grizzlies has increased, and also that grizzlies are eating more moths and fewer Doritos, major issues concerning the survival of Yellowstone grizzlies remain. For bears, Yellowstone is basically an ecological island. Due to roads, human dwellings, and cattle ranches, the Yellowstone grizzly population continues to be separated from populations in Montana and Canada. As a result, the Yellowstone population is highly susceptible to changes to the environment. In particular, recent changes in climate seem to be affecting the migration of moths to the Yellowstone area. For grizzlies who return from hibernation to the same feeding areas year after year, the shock of removing a major food source could have very serious ramifications to the population.
As far as takeaways from this week's topic, I don't really have a profound message. If anything, I think the Yellowstone grizzly example reminds us of the impact exogenous forces can have on any kind of local environment. Grizzlies are fascinating, solitary, powerful creatures. While I don't necessarily want to raise one from birth, I will be rooting for their ongoing comeback.