One of the greatest things about RVing is the ability to get up close to nature in ways that might otherwise be impossible (outside of visiting a zoo, of course).
Unfortunately, the video of a little girl being charged by a bison at Yellowstone this week reminds us of the risk we are often taking in getting close to said animals.
I also couldn’t help but be reminded of an interview I did not too long ago with Andrew LaValle, a ranger at Katmai National Park in Alaska.
Why did I think of that?
Because he talked about the brown bear cams at Katmai, specifically Brooks Falls and the Brooks River. In short, you can log on anytime, anywhere — specifically, a SAFE long, long way away — and watch the beautiful yet powerful animals feed on sockeye salmon.
“Most people are not going to be able to visit us in person,” LaValle explained, referring to the remoteness of the area. “And what the bear cams allow us to do is reach audiences … from around the world. People are able to stream these bears 24/7 during the summer. And a lot of our audience, they get to know the bears quite well.”
Katmai is a remote park located in the southwest part of the state on the Alaskan Peninsula. You can’t RV there. In fact, you can’t even drive there — only fly in.
In a partnership with explore.org, the park features cameras all over the place with the most popular being at Brooks Falls. Other cameras are placed at other parts of the Brooks River as well as a place called Dumpling Mountain.
The peak of summer activity takes place in July and is currently winding down (I just checked and there is still plenty of opportunity to watch the bears). It picks back up in September, according to LaValle.
Whenever you tune in, you’re going to get a front row seat to a truly unique “show.”
“So what the cams do is it allows people to connect to this resource and develop an emotional connection to this place. And in that way, they’re doing exactly what they were supposed to. People from Baltimore, Maryland, or Hong Kong, or London can tune in, see what these bears are doing and learn about this place,” LaValle said. “So it’s a pretty remarkable tool in that way. It’s facilitating this emotional connection to a place most people won’t visit.”
Anyone who visits the website to check out the cameras will likely notice that the bears are brown. Brown bears are typically found within 100 miles of the coast and have a lot of access to seafood — fish, clams, and coastal sedges.
The means they get very big, as LaValle explained.
“As big as they look on the cams, it is completely different to see them in person,” LaValle said. “They are absolutely large, massive. And even these cubs that look so cute and cuddly, when you see them in person, they’re like miniature St Bernards. They’re massive. And a fully grown adult male, what we call a boar, could easily tip the scale about 1,000 pounds.
By comparison, that’s several hundred pounds more than the bears of Denali or Yellowstone.
If you check out the cameras, you might see two things: bears taking a swipe at each other, as well as people walking around.
That’s because the area gets a lot of visitors in the summer. People are camping nearby, tents only and protected by an electric fence, or staying at a lodge in the area (the only one of its kind there).
“These bears are relatively accustomed to seeing people and other bears at close proximity,” LaValle said. “It’s important to remember that bears are normally very solitary creatures. These bears would, in other places, live most of their lives without seeing other bears or people this close of distance.
Places like Denali, for example. If a bear comes across another large animal, it’s either food or trying to kill it, right? But these bears, it’s all about the concentration of food. They’re willing to tolerate other bears at close proximity because there is all that salmon in the river.”
If you watch the cameras long enough, you’ll might see the bears take a swipe at each other.
LaValle said that’s perfectly normal and that most of the time it’s “bluffing.”
“With a lot of these bears, it’s sort of a begrudging tolerance of other bears,” he said. “Again, they all want access to that food so they’re sort of forced to live peaceably if you think about it that way. They will tolerate other bears at close distances.
“And occasionally, they will engage in conflict. It’s inevitable. Bears are very big on dominance, especially amongst the male bears and if other bears get too close or question another bear’s dominance, they will come to fisticuffs.”
The good thing about watching that, however, is that you will likely not be anywhere close to an angry bear.
To see the bearcams live, go to https://explore.org/livecams/brown-bears/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls
And be sure to check out my interview with LaValle below.
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