My Black Bear Encounter In Yosemite National Park

My son (aged 11) and I were hiking overland (no trail) in Yosemite National Park some years ago. We emerged from a stand of pines into a small meadow to see about forty yards to our right what I judged to be a yearling black bear perched on a huge rock.

The rock looked as though it had once been a sphere since split in half. The flat side faced the early morning sun and this was where the bear was enjoying the warmth of the new day.

He was leaning on his backside facing the sun, all four feet in the air and gently rocking back and forth. The bear glanced over at us when we emerged into the meadow.

I quietly told my son to sit down, and when the bear saw we were no threat, he peacefully went back to his rocking and sunning. We shared an hour or so of that morning with the bear who glanced at us occasionally, but never interrupted his rocking.

Then, wanting to be away before the bear finished his sun bath, I signaled my son and slowly and quietly we got up and stepped back into the woods. The bear noticed our movement immediately, but watched us go with minimal interest.

A magical morning.

I have been lucky enough to manage similar visits with a bull moose (while he was quietly chewing his cud) and an elk.

I would never suggest that anyone try similar things, but I’ve always been a student of animal behavour and couldn’t resist.

But if you must, here are three safety tips for watching wildlife in nature:

  1. Take an approach that would take you by the animal at a safe distance. (All wild animals have a flight/fight distance. When that distance is penetrated, they will do one or the other.)
  2. Go slow, very slow, and watch the animal out of the corner of your eye. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re a predator by staring and walking directly toward them.
  3. And, as you approach, pretend to be interested in tree bark, something on the ground, anything but the animal.

My advice – don’t approach wild animals. But if you must, be safe.

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