Even though he was shooting photographs from the safety of an airplane, biologist Doug Smith acknowledged feeling uneasy when a large grizzly bear standing guard over a bison carcass made direct eye contact after the pilot had swooped down for a closer look. Smith captured the incredible image while studying a wolf pack in Hayden Valley within Yellowstone National Park. The bison probably was killed by another bison during the herd’s recent rutting season, in a battle over a female, Smith told KTVQ News. The bear then claimed the dead animal.
The wolf pack is lurking nearby, though it’s not visible in the photograph. “He was glad his plane made it out safely because he was sure had he not, the grizzly bear had him in mind for his next meal,” KTVQ reports Smith saying.
Smith, the Yellowstone wolf project leader, alerted park officials about the bear and they closed the Alum Trail, which is near the site of a fatal grizzly mauling last summer.
Smith snapped the photograph last Friday and this week it began to make headlines and has been splashed on social media sites.
Not all of the stories have been positive. Dave Smith of the Examiner on Sunday published a critical op-ed piece stating that Smith should be fined and reprimanded for “harassing” a wild animal from an airplane and “demonizing” grizzlies with his statement about the bear having the biologist in mind for its next meal.
“Doug Smith and his pilot broke the law,” Dave Smith wrote. “There’s no question about it. Instead of leaving the grizzly alone, they willfully remained near it, and approached it.”
It’s not clear how close the plane was to the bear. Smith works closely with Yellowstone wolves and said the pack was lingering on the perimeter, waiting for its turn on the dead animal.
Image is courtesy of Doug Smith / NPS