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Grizzly Bear Killed after Eating Photographer in National Park – what next?

The grizzly bear that killed a hiker in Denali National Park in late August 2012 was later killed by officers. The first time in recored history that a grizzly bear has killed and ate a human in Denali National Park should make news, but what, if anything should be done about it? And what about the life of the bear, was it okay for the large boar to be killed by authorities?

Grizzly Bear Boar Resting

A grizzly bear rests peacefully in a national park. nikon 500 vr af-s vr, nikon tc 2 III, Nikon d700. ©tonybynum all rights reserved

First, it’s terrible that anyone is killed by a wild animal and it’s likely that animal activits and others will ask for new and different regulations. I say NO!  Leave the regs alone. There is risk in life. The existing regulations are fine, they have worked for almost 100 years. In this case, new rules or new regulations wont fix a thing, and more importantly different regulations would not have saved Mr. White’s life. The rules now in place work, leave them alone and move along. Lets morn the loss of a fellow human and photographer, but lets not freak out and start changing rules.

All the evidence shows that the bear was not acting agressive toward the photographer. Was Mr. White too close? Should he have NOT been hiking alone? Did he have a 10.2 oz. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent with him, did he use it? I cant answer these questions, I wasn’t there.  What I do know is that a grizzly bear can, if given the right conditions cover more ground, faster than any human and regulations will not stop them. We do what we can to avoid conflict, and I think we have adequate rules in place.  This seems to have been a tragic accident. I hope the National Park Service, Denali National Park does not follow suit with more regulations. In Denali the rules are working, one life lost in 95 years is fate, not fault! It seems that wildlife photographers are getting fewer and fewer opportunities as parks close more and more land all the time. New rules wont change a thing, unless they completely close more areas to visitors – that would be a HUGE mistake!

This grizzly bear came within feet of me while I was resting on the side of a mountain in glacier national park. It could have eaten me. It did not and no rules or regulations, new or old, short of a complete ban on being outside, would have changed the outcome. I did the right things and we both came out of this safe and happy. No need to change or add regulations in Denali!  Nikon d300, Nikon 200-400 f4 vr af-s II. ©tonybynum all rights reserved

The other question, should the bear have been killed, is a good one. Again, under the circumstances I say yes – and I’m not one who takes killing lightly. According to reports, the bear was protecting his human kill and not allowing officers to safely enter the location. Moreover, the bear basically got away with eating a human and received no negative response, which could help bolster the bears nerve to eat another human. I think taking the bear out was the correct action. I’m sorry to hear it came to this, but as far as I can tell, this incident was handled properly.

One human killed by one bear in the history of Denali - I think things are fine, leave it be. RIP Richard White.

If you agree or disagree, please let me know your opinion!

Thank you,

Tony Bynum

10 Responses to “Grizzly Bear Killed after Eating Photographer in National Park – what next?”

  1. Trent says:

    Great blog tony. Have to agree, there are risks, and it seems he ignored them in approaching the bear.

    But you can’t legislate away risk, especially where mother nature is concerned. What’s next? Outlaw living in the hurricane zone? Tornado alley? Anywhere with potentially icy travel conditions.

    Every incident does not a legislative reaction warrant.

  2. I agree. On the rare occasions of such tragic events, there is a tendency, on the part of some, to try to “fix” things to prevent such a thing from happening again. Unfortunately, such “fixes” are usually unnecessary, irrelevant, or do more harm. I also agree that this particular bear unfortunately did need to be put down. Having received positive reinforcement for its actions (a meal), it had been trained to attack people.

    That said, I do have some curiosity regarding the hiker’s distance from the bear at the time he was taking photos. But, that’s only idle curiosity. Knowing won’t change what happened or change my opinion regarding the need for a “fix.”

  3. Tony says:

    #katie, thanks for the great feedback and support! You are so on the money with this one! And #trent, thank you for posting a comment, I only hope they listen to common sense and can escape the pressure from the anti gun, anti hunter, and pro don’t step on a bug crowd. I’m not trying to be divisive, I’m pointing out that sometimes things should just be left alone – the old saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it comes to mind.

    Tony Bynum

  4. amyelizabeth1970@hotmail.com says:

    I mourn the loss of Mr. White as well, clearly a lover of nature, enjoying what was maybe his dream trip to Alaska. I have read some reports regarding his distance, estimated at about 50 yards, based on the retrieved photographic records in his camera. The recommended distance is 440. Would this have made a difference? Who knows. What we do know is that bears are extremely fast given their size and while apparently grazing away and not showing any aggression, he suddenly turned and pursued Mr. White. Like you said, Mr. Bynum, one kill in almost 100 years. To me, this says alot on the part of the bear. As we know, bears are feeding and getting ready to hunker preparing for the winter, which comes early to Alaska. I am saddened by the loss of this animal as well, being an activist for animal rights but understand the steps taken in a practical sense. Bear awareness training goes a long way in preparing and safeguarding people against wildlife aggression, but is never foolproof.

  5. Kevin Root says:

    Good blog Tony. I’m saddened about the death of Richard White and my condolences go out to his family. I do also agree with you on concern for Denali on the National Parks adding more rules. Some of the National Park systems have pretty strict rules already. Denali being one of the most stringent with human-wildlife conflict regulations. The mandatory bear awareness class already teaches folks to stay a quarter mile away from bears and to back away if they find themselves closer. Will they close more areas to the public or add even more distance to to the regulation? Some of the animal activists would like to close the parks all together from the public.

    There is an element of danger or inherent risk when traveling in the backcountry. My vote also is not over regulating it with even more rules to the point we can’t enjoy and view our public lands and animals.

  6. Mac McMillen says:

    I’m definitely a wildlife lover, especially Grizzly Bears, so while I am very sad they killed the Griz, I think it was the right decision. I haven’t read if Mr. White was carrying bear spray with him. With the bear attacks, and subsequent deaths, that took place in Yellowstone last year, none of the victims were carrying bear spray. To me, I can’t ever imagine going in the backcountry without carrying bear spray. It’s not a 100-percent effective, but it is still very effective. I agree with everyone that more legislation (there’s already too much of that in everyday life) is not the answer. Life has risks, and with no risks, there is no life. This is coming from a mountain climber, so my level of acceptable risk is perhaps greater than most people’s, but I think you get the point.

  7. Tony says:

    Well put folks. It seems like we are in agreement that it’s wildlife, wild country and I love the issue #mac brings up. Great point #mac, it would be interesting to learn more about the specifics of the incident. I too carry bear spray, and i hope that, God forbid I never need to use it, I’ll use the correct judgement. Thank you all for your valuable contributions.

    Tony Bynum

  8. Carin says:

    Yes, the bear should have been killed. They don’t normally eat humans. This was consuming a human.

    By the way, if other humans kill humans (just because they’re around), they should be killed too.

  9. Hi Tony – Nigel here from Zenologue

    A very interesting topic indeed, and a sad and tragic one too for everyone involved, including the bear.

    The article you put together here, and the rest of the comments, are absolutely right in saying that more regulation is not the answer. No one knows exactly what happened on that fateful day, except for Mr. White and the bear.

    But, one thing is clear – when humans venture into the wild and enter the habitat of the animals who live there, it is up to them to abide by the rules of common sense and respect for the creatures whose homes we’re visiting.

    I’ve had the great fortune, as an underwater photographer and videographer, to swim in close proximity to sharks and other “dangerous” sea creatures, for example. Oddly, it’s the smaller creatures (such as lion fish or stonefish) that often present the most danger to humans, usually through accidental encounters.

    Never did I see a shark become aggressive, though, except when a human tried to push the boundaries and get too close. Believe it or not, people really do think that trying to pet a sleeping 7ft nurse shark in the wild is a good idea – until they get a lesson in the fact that a nurse shark has the strongest bite of any shark, and often won’t let go until it is physically removed from the water :-)

    Anyway, a healthy respect for nature, rather than more regulation would be the preferred route for me.

  10. Tony Bynum says:

    Thanks Nigel. I’m glad you agree. There are risks in life and sometimes things done work out quite right. If there’s something to learn from this I hope the park service reports back with an explanation, should they find one after their investigation. . .

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