Contrary to the impression occasionally portrayed by Hollywood, human beings constitute an extremely minor part of a grizzly bear’s diet. Without passing judgement as to whether this is a good thing or not, I’ll just say that when bears incorporate human protoplasm into the food web, it’s an event that’s so rare it’s barely worth mentioning. Except that for some of us, it’s an enjoyable topic for discussion. In fact, bears eat humans so infrequently that all such known instances in the history of North America could be counted on the existing fingers of anybody who has never worked in the oilfield.
Of course, a slightly larger number of people have been killed or “just” mauled by bears in surprise encounters where the bear acted defensively. But even these frightening examples of human/bear interaction are extremely rare. Millions visit Yellowstone each year, with an average of one annual injury. Moreover, grizzlies usually require some Darwinian act of human folly to instigate the attack. I’m talking natural selection. Like trying to get closer to Mr. Grizzly for a photo. Or failing to alter one’s route when a visible sow grizzly and her cubs are blocking the path. Really. I’m not making these examples up. They are time-proven techniques for getting clawed and chomped by a grizzly while hiking in Yellowstone or anyplace in Wyoming or Montana that still supports a surviving population of these magnificent omnivorous beasts. Being careless and sloppy with food and its storage can also get you in trouble. Eschew overt stupidity, though, and you’ll almost certainly be fine.
In fact, on any given Yellowstone adventure, you are more likely to drown. Or fall to your death. Or while driving to the trailhead you might just as easily get squished by a wayward Winnebago drifting over the center line as its eighty year old driver from Florida – who has never driven a mountain road – gawks at the bison in the meadow off to the right. Fact is, if you exhibit even a moderate amount of common sense, and if you follow the standard precautions that your Big Wild guide will share with you prior to the trip, you can very easily dodge the Darwinian bullet and greatly delay your inevitable immersion into the Earth’s nitrogen and carbon cycles. As you ponder this subject, please take a look at our website page Bears in the Big Wilds. It should further reassure you. So fear not. Bears are highly adaptive omnivores, they tend to avoid humans, and humans don’t taste very good, anyway. Look at what we eat. Would YOU want to eat a creature “nourished” by Coca Cola, Big Macs and Cheetos? Of course not. Bears are smart. Neither do they. In the next couple of blogs, we’ll take a look at what grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem actually do eat, and the answers will probably surprise you!