Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yellowstone Bear World

Our first stop was Yellowstone Bear World, a drive-thru adventure. 

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I must admit, we were both a little nervous about this experience. I felt kind of how I felt before I went snorkeling for the first time…or how one might feel going down in a shark cage. We’re talking grizzly bears, here: wild, ferocious, territorial, rip-your-car-door-off. Actually, I was the only one nervous at first and Andrew made fun of me., but then he reflected back on a documentary he watched about polar bears and he started to get nervous, too.

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The drive through the animal park is pretty short but you can drive through as many times as you’d like. We only drove through twice because we spent so much time at the petting zoo and amusement park. The first drive was pretty tame. We were close behind the feeding truck so a lot of the animals had come out of “hiding.” We saw deer and bison and caribou and moose and even an albino elk…

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Then we entered the bear enclosures. The grizzly enclosure is rather small—there were two little grizzlies behind electric fences. Grizzlies are very dangerous and territorial—thus the reason for the high security in the park.

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Grizzlies are thought by some to be the most dangerously aggressive bears in the world.

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Knowing that, we thought it was funny to see a worker weed-whacking right there just a few feet away from a grizzly when we were supposed to stay inside our car with the windows rolled up and the doors locked.

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After driving over another electric fence we entered the black bear and wolf enclosure. There were bears all over the place and they were absolutely flocking the feeding truck. We counted seven bears around this truck, alone, and there were more coming.

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Black bears are rather innocuous, though can be provoked. They aren’t very territorial, nor are they very protective of their young. They are quintessential “lazy” bears. After the feeding truck passed they would just sit on the side of the road scratching their tummies and picking at their fur.

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Unlike brown bears, of which the grizzly is a subspecies, black bears typically attack humans when they are hungry instead of to fend off their territory so it’s really important to know your bears because if you played dead for a black bear it would eat you but if you tried to fight off a grizzly bear it would surely maul you to death. The easiest way to tell them apart, I think, is that grizzlies have a hump and black bears don’t. Every other identifying characteristic requires some up-close-and-personal contact with the bear which I think most people would try to avoid.

Black bears and grizzlies both are garbage addicts and where I grew up in British Columbia it is actually illegal to put your garbage out the night before collection day. You have to do it the morning of or you face major penalties. I think, though, that if I had to have one kind of bear or the other sniffing around my trash I’d choose a black bear. You?

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Andrew was creeped out by the wolves. They look so domesticated yet ferocious at the same time. We didn’t see very mean wolves, although we may have seen more than we actually noticed since we saw quite a few lying down together in the shade. Most were very well camouflaged…except this white one.

The second time through the park was so much better. At first we thought we weren’t going to see anything because there was no feeding truck in front of us. But we were wrong.

While the herbivores were hiding the grass the bears were all over the place and, since the feeding truck was gone, were rather interested in the remaining vehicles. We let Rachel out of her seatbelt so that she could kneel on her seat. She couldn’t see anything otherwise and we figured there was no harm in it since the speed limit in the park is 3 MPH.

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She was probably more thrilled to be out of her seatbelt than she was to see the bears.

I saw a bear swimming in a pond right outside my window.

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He came out to say hello before wandering over to his friends at the “playground.” Most of the trees in the bear enclosures were wrapped with metal so that the bears wouldn’t scratch them, but they had this little structure made of logs for the bears to climb on—we saw some way up at the top. They also had dens made of large corrugated pipes—like what you’d use for a culvert.

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We continued on our way, looking for bears and not really seeing any. Suddenly a large black bear jumped out of a pond onto the road directly in front of us. It scared the dickens out of me.

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“Stop!” I commanded.

Andrew slammed on the breaks and we missed hitting the bear (because wouldn’t it have been embarrassing to hit a bear in a protected area?) and sent Rachel flying off her seat. She slammed her face into the back of Andrew’s seat and was so surprised that she didn’t even cry, though a livid bruise spread across her swelling nose. We were afraid she had broken it but she said it felt fine and the swelling went down quickly. Poor thing.

As for the bear, it just stared at us, dripping wet,  for a minute and then meandered out of our path and back to the pond.

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We were shaking for the rest of our drive through the park, but that wasn’t even our final encounter. We saw several other bears up close.

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We caught the tail end of a feeding before the truck disappeared out of the park and, as I said, that left the bears mighty interested about our car.

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This bear stopped in the middle of the road, forcing us to stop.

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He walked right up to our car and fiddled with the front bumper.

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Then he walked right underneath Andrew and Rachel’s windows. I’m quite positive this is the absolute closest any of us have ever been to a bear.

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When we were driving out of the park there was a bear right by the exit gate. A worker has to open the gate for each car to pass through and Andrew had to turn the car to get through the gate. When he turned he ended up honking his horn, which is a huge no-no at Bear World because it disturbs the animals. The worker tsked at us. It was embarrassing but we got over it.

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The girls were excited to get out of the car when we were through with our drive. The tickets to Bear World are rather expensive, but they include access to the petting zoo and amusement park so we thought it was kind of worth it. As you walk out of the gift shop there are habitats for the cubs but I could hardly get Rachel to stop and look at them. She was already on her way to the rides.

I thought the cubs were so cute, though, all cuddled up together in their little caves.

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I think it’s really sad that they don’t get to be with their mommas. It seems to me that when animals are born in captivity they are taken away from their mothers far too often. I don’t know if this is because the mothering instinct isn’t as strong in captive animals or if humans just like to interfere. Either way it always makes me a little sad to see baby animals all alone without their mothers.

Can you imagine being separated from this cute, little bear cub?

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Me neither.                                        

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Later I’ll post about the amusement park ad petting zoo, but to sum up: Bear World was awesome and perfect for our three-year-old. It was a little on the pricey side, though, I thought…but since it was our last hurrah before the semester we rationalized that it was okay. And it was. We had a great time!

2 comments:

  1. Looks like fun. Now I want to take my family there. Maybe next summer.

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  2. So cool!!! Must have been so much fun with kids and being able to get so close to the animals :)

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