Grizzly Bear

Ever wonder what a Grizzly Bear is thinking? Looks like he’s trying to get a quick afternoon nap and some photographer is pointing a lens right at him. Being the photographer in question I have to consider that I might look like a tasty snack, so perhaps the bear is doing a distance verses time calculation. Fortunately there is a moat between us so it’s unlikely I’ll become a snack.

I think the expression reflects a simple decision alpha predators make all the time. There is some creature out there, it’s either part of the landscape and of no particular importance, or it’s a threat of some kind that has to be dealt with, or its potential prey. The “sizing you up” stare.

I doubt that he’s annoyed. I never wave my arms or shout to get the attention of captive animals, it seems unnecessary and silly to me. Who really knows if the animals regard it as a break in an otherwise boring day, or whether it’s disruptive to what little peace and quiet they enjoy. My philosophy is that if there is even a remote chance you’re disturbing the animal, don’t do it. The performance of just being the creature is enough entertainment for me. In my view the best photographs are likely to happen when you least expect it, in this case when the bear is enjoying a quiet moment.

What I like about this image is that the bear is looking right at you. No mistake about that. We can’t know what’s going on behind those eyes, but they are definitely watching. I really like his head resting on his front paw. A Grizzly’s paws are a marvel. The claws can reach 4.75 inches (12cm), although this specimen is not that large. Unlike a cat, bears cannot retract their claws. They can pick up pine nuts and have been observed opening a jar, so in spite of their size they can be delicate and dexterous. At the same time their paws are terribly dangerous, one swipe can disembowel a thin skinned animal like a deer, or human. Bears have all the tools of the classic alpha predator.

What I see in the viewfinder is an immensely strong and agile animal in quiet repose, but watching at the same time. I completely forget that I’ve probably taken 300 frames of this creature over three or four visits to get one frame that appeals. I don’t really mind that. I’m looking forward to going back and maybe getting another shot.

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Riverbanks Zoo