Recently, a young bear cub was killed by a speeding car in Yosemite National Park, and the mother bear’s grief was witnessed by a wildlife official who shared the heartbreaking details in a social media post. The recount of the cub’s tragic death begins:
We get this call a lot. Too much, to be honest. “Bear hit by vehicle, dead on the side of the road.” Sadly, it’s become routine. I log the coordinates into my phone, gather the equipment I may need, and head to the location. This call came in cold; it sounds like the collision happened sometime around noon and it’s 4 pm now.
The official details what happens next, noting that it takes an hour to reach the location, and the ranger’s responsibilities after finding the deceased cub:
My job here is easy, really: find the bear, move its body far away from the road to prevent any other animals from getting hit while scavenging on it, fill out a report, and collect samples and measurements for research. Then I’m off on my way again with another number to add to the total of bears hit by vehicles this year—data we hope will help prevent future collisions. Pretty callous. However, the reality behind each of these numbers is not.
The ranger describes the search for the cub, and the grim reality of locating the body:
I turn my gaze from the car part down the embankment on the side of the road and there it is.
A cub. Its tiny light brown body laying just feet from me and the road, nearly invisible to every passerby. It’s a new cub—couldn’t be much more than six months old, now balled up and lifeless under a small pine tree. For a moment I lose track of time as I stand there staring at its tiny body, but then the sound of more cars whizzing by reminds me of my place and my role. I let out a deep sigh and continue on with my task.
I pick up the cub—it couldn’t be much more than 25 pounds—and begin carrying it off into the woods. I have no certain destination; I’m just walking until I can no longer hear the hiss of the road behind me. I see a grassy spot surrounded by a semi-ring of down logs and gravitate towards it. The least I can do is find it a nice place to be laid. I lay it down in the grass protected by one of the nearby logs and sit back on the log opposite of it, slightly relieved that it looks far more in place now than when I found it earlier. I take another moment and then continue with my work.
The ranger describes taking notes on the cub – determining that it’s a female, and pondering the life she may have had if not for being killed by the vehicle in the park. Moments later, the ranger hear something nearby:
Just beyond the ring, there’s a familiar figure intently staring back at me. It’s another bear. Surprised, I stand up quickly and the bear runs off into the brush but stops not far off and looks back at me. Acting on instinct, I pick up a stick and smash it over a tree to scare the bear further away. I stand there quietly, listening as I hear the bear’s footsteps tapper away.
At first the ranger thinks that the bear might be there as a scavenger of the body, but a sound reverses that thought:
I hear it, and it changes my mind completely. From behind me there’s a deep toned but soft sounding grunt. I immediately know what it is. It’s a vocalization, the kind sows (female bears) make to call to their cubs. I turn and look in its direction and there she is, the same bear from before intently staring back at me. It’s no coincidence. I can feel the callousness drain from my body. This bear is the mom, and she never left her cub.
Sharing thoughts in acknowledgement of the mother’s incredible grief:
My heart sinks. It’s been nearly six hours and she still hasn’t given up on her cub. I can just imagine how many times she darted back and forth on that road in attempts to wake it. It’s extremely lucky that she wasn’t hit as well. The calls to the cub continue, sounding more pained each time. I glance back finding myself hoping it would respond to her call too, but of course, nothing. Now here I am, standing between a grieving mother and her child. I feel like a monster.
And describing why it is time to leave:
I get up, quickly pack my bag, and get out of there. It is time to go even though my task is not done. Quickly, I set up a remote camera. Why? Every year we report the number of bears that get hit by vehicles, but numbers don’t always paint a picture. I want people to see what I saw: the sad reality behind each of these numbers.
With a final thought on the importance of driving slow in the park, to save lives:
So please, remember this. Remember that when traveling through Yosemite, we are all just visitors in the home of countless animals and it is up to us to follow the rules that protect them. Go the speed limit, drive alertly, and look out for wildlife. Protecting Yosemite’s black bears is something we can all do.
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