The Grizzlies of Mount McKinley
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Grizzlies and Carnivores

Grizzly—Wolf Relationships

Both the grizzly and wolf are fond of carrion; consequently the two species renew acquaintanceship occasionally at a carcass. Regardless of who arrives first, the bear generally takes possession and may camp near the carcass for as long as it lasts. The carrion may result from disease, old age, or an accident, but often it results from hunting by wolves who may get a meal or two before the bear is alerted. The bears appear to benefit most from the relationship, primarily because they partake of many wolf kills (Fig. 57).

Fig. 57. Bears often benefit from animals killed by wolves. A lone bear sometimes is harassed by a group of wolves and then may be glad to retreat.

The following incidents observed in the field illustrate the relationship between the two species.

On one occasion a mother bear and three 2-year-old cubs approached a wolf den from downwind (Murie 1961). The four adult wolves at the den did not notice the bears until they were close, whereupon the wolves dashed out in a vain effort to protect their property. For the hour that the bears were at the den feeding on meat scraps they were harassed by the wolves. The bears held their ground and did not leave until they had completed their pillaging.

The next morning I was observing the same wolf den when the mother and three cubs were about one-half mile away and moving across a river bar, out of sight. About mid-morning a black, male wolf returned to the den with food in his jaws. He was met by four adults with much tail wagging and friendly overtures. While the wolves were in a group, a large bear loomed up near the skyline, moving in the general direction of the den. As he came downwind from the wolves he caught the scent of the den, and perhaps the meat also, for he moved toward the den and was about 100 yards away before the wolves discovered him. When the wolves rushed toward the bear, he galloped away but was soon overtaken and surrounded. As the bear dashed at one wolf, another would drive in from behind and the bear would turn quickly to catch it. The avoided his rushes easily. Sometimes a lunge at one wolf was only a feint and the bear would turn and surprise another wolf rushing in from the rear. He would lunge toward the wolf with both paws, not with a slapping movement. After about 10 minutes, the two female wolves withdrew, and within a few minutes the three males had withdrawn also. The bear resumed his travels on a course a little to one side of the den, but the wolves disapproved and again galloped to him. After another 5 minutes of harassment, the wolves returned to the den; the bear retreated the way he had come, and disappeared in a swale one-half mile away. The bear did not touch any wolf, although one escaped the bear's grasp only by the most strenuous efforts. Five wolves had discouraged a lone bear from coming near the den.

Harold Herning reported seeing a grizzly appropriating a calf caribou soon after it was killed by a wolf. Only two of the five wolves present bothered the bear but after being charged by it several times, they retreated. The wolves had an abundance of food and were not near their den, so apparently they felt no strong desire to attack the bear.

In 1940, at a road camp garbage dump, the same female grizzly with the three 2-year-old cubs often met wolves. The cubs frequently chased the wolves but the latter avoided them easily and continued their hunting. One evening the wolves lay down to one side and waited for the bears to leave.

On 22 September 1940 the bear family and the wolves met near the garbage pit. On this occasion the black male chased one of the 2-year-old cubs a short distance, then the cub turned and chased the wolf. Variations of this were repeated several times, both apparently enjoying the game.

On 20 August 1962 a lone wolf was reported attacking a caribou bull which eventually succumbed. (Two other bulls had died from disease about this time which suggests that the bull was an ailing animal.) In the afternoon and evening I watched the wolf feeding on the carcass and carrying off a large piece for caching. The following day the wolf was seen again feeding on the carcass and caching parts of it. In the late afternoon a wolf at the carcass continually watched westward; apparently he was seeing or scenting a bear approaching from that direction, because shortly after the wolf left the carcass a small, dark grizzly appeared from the west, feeding on buffaloberry along the gravel bar. When opposite the carcass, the bear turned abruptly and walked to it. He dragged the remains behind a clump of willows, then carried most of it across a narrow gravel bar to another clump of willow. He carried a large chunk about 100 yards away then returned to the carcass and fed for about 15 minutes before walking away to the west.

On 23 August about 7 a.m. I saw a dark grizzly and the same gray wolf near the carcass. As the bear fed on a piece of neck and ribs, the wolf approached to within 7 or 8 yards. The bear made several short, galloping charges toward the wolf, apparently not hoping to overtake but only to chase it away. Occasionally the bear would follow the wolf and for short spurts break into a gallop. The wolf would keep a little ahead of the bear, 10 yards or less, moving effortlessly and slowly, without excitement, as though only bothered. Once the bear followed the wolf two or three times around a clump of willows about 20 or 25 feet in diameter. After this maneuvering, the wolf picked up a leg bone, moved away 20 yards, and lay down to gnaw on it; the bear resumed feeding on a piece with a few ribs attached. In a few minutes the bear approached the wolf again; the wolf moved away with a caribou leg in his jaws and maneuvered as before, keeping a short distance ahead of the bear. After a time, the wolf dropped his load, but later picked up the piece the bear had been feeding on, carried it a short distance away, and fed. The bear seemed surfeited with meat, or perhaps found the bones too well cleaned, and moved off to feed on buffaloberry. Later he moved far across the flat. The bear had chased half-heartedly and casually, and the wolf, confident of his ability to escape, was not greatly concerned.

In May 1967, a moose carcass near Hogan Creek attracted bears, a wolf, and a wolverine for several days. On 28 May at 3:00 a.m., a lone bear was feeding at the carcass, when, 15 minutes later, a gray wolf trotted down the slope toward the carcass. He passed 50 yards to one side of the carcass, then approached it from below. When the bear saw the wolf 40 yards away, he charged, causing the wolf to retreat some 20 yards. As the bear started back toward the carcass, the wolf followed; the bear turned and charged again. This was repeated at least 25 times before the bear returned to the carcass. The wolf approached to within 10 feet of the bear and after a few token chases of a yard or two, the bear continued feeding as the wolf stood only 7 or 8 feet away. The bear had wearied of discouraging the wolf's approach. If one came upon this scene at this stage, one would assume the wolf and bear to be on the friendliest of terms. The wolf did not attempt to feed on the carcass, and after a few minutes trotted downslope to lie among some scattered spruces. Within an hour the lone bear wandered off, and the wolf, after chasing a wolverine up a tree, came to the carcass and fed undisturbed.

The following morning at 4:45 a.m., the wolf was at the carcass. A mother bear with two 2-year-old cubs appeared, walking rapidly toward the carcass. The wolf remained until the bears were within 25 yards of him, then galloped away lightly, avoiding the charge of the mother bear. He disappeared in some spruces and did not reappear during the 2-1/2 hours that the bear family remained at the carcass, although he was seen in the vicinity later that day.

Young bears sometimes are seen moving away from wolves, perhaps wishing to avoid harassment. One morning, as I watched a wolf working his way diagonally up Primrose Ridge, I saw a small bear coming down the slope ahead of the wolf, perhaps 200 yards away. Apparently the bear caught the scent of the wolf for he raised his nose to test the breeze. Three times he stopped and stood erect on hind legs to watch the wolf. After the third, prolonged look, he dropped to all fours and galloped over a rise. He was well able to take care of himself but preferred keeping his distance. The wolf later noted the bear's trail, followed it a few yards, and then continued on his way.

On another occasion, four wolves were moving leisurely toward the top of Sable Pass. They were scattered, one or two ahead would lie down to wait, while those behind moved here and there nosing about. On the slope ahead, a 3- or 4-year-old grizzly grazed. When he became aware of the wolves, he interrupted his grazing periodically to watch them. After a time, he walked upward and to one side. As he crossed a long snowfield, he glanced toward the wolves several times and disappeared over the horizon. He did not appear alarmed, but as though he preferred to avoid the wolves.

On 4 September 1964 I watched 12 wolves at a rendezvous. In the afternoon a small grizzly appeared near the edge of the sedge flat in which the wolves were resting or moving about. Two pups were playing. The bear was about 150 yards from the nearest wolf when three wolves saw the bear and trotted toward him. In a few moments all 12 wolves were loping toward the bear, and soon he was surrounded. As he faced some of them, others would move in close to his rear, causing him to turn to protect himself. Once, when he began to retreat most of the wolves closed in in a semicircle 3 or 4 yards away from him. He turned and held them at bay, and three circled to his rear. Five black pups soon left the group and later all except one of the adults withdrew. This wolf stood near the bear for 4 or 5 minutes, and when he left, the bear continued on his way. There had been no contact, but the bear probably thought the wolves a nuisance.

If a carcass is involved an adult bear does not retreat from wolves. Once a grizzly appropriated a dead caribou calf even though five wolves were resting nearby. A hungry bear is not to be denied by wolves; he dines with relatively little challenge from that quarter.

Grizzly—Wolverine Relationships

I have learned little about the relationships between the wolverine and the grizzly, having observed a wolverine's reaction to a grizzly on only two occasions. The wolverine probably does not wish to venture near carrion attended by a bear, for he may not be agile enough to escape should the bear attack.

On 21 September 1960 a wolverine that I had been watching for some time, sat up on his haunches when he saw a grizzly about 200 yards away, moving in his direction. He galloped away from the bear, then turned at right angles, traveled a quarter mile, and resumed the line of travel he had been taking when he first saw the bear. He had made a wide detour to avoid the bear, but the bear had given no indication of being aware of the wolverine on this occasion.

On 7 August 1961 I watched a wolverine lope toward a lone bear that was feeding near the river bar, without being aware of the presence of the bear. The wolverine discovered the bear when about 50 yards from it, stopped with a jerk, sat erect, then did an about-face and galloped 100 yards at his fastest pace. Still hurrying, the wolverine climbed the bench above the river and, resuming his original direction, passed well above where the bear was feeding.

In both incidents the wolverine seemed anxious to avoid the bear.

Grizzly—Fox Relationships

The grizzly and the fox often meet at carrion. If a bear is present, the fox may wait patiently for an opportunity to partake.

One spring, a fox and a bear were involved briefly with a cache. A fox dug into a snowfield and secured a food item which he carried 100 yards and recached near a tuft of grass. The robbed cache may have belonged to a bear, because a few hours later one walked to it and fed for 15 minutes on what remained. He then followed the fox's trail and ate its cache. A little later I saw the fox following the bear as they went out of sight over a rise.

Occasionally, a bear may try to dig out a fox's den, but I have seen this only once when two 2-year-old cubs showed an interest. The two cubs spent some time at a den on a knoll, digging haphazardly, with a fox standing a few steps away, watching them and avoiding the half-hearted charges made by one of the cubs. The mother bear, 300 yards away, turned back to check on the tarrying cubs. One came forth and met her 150 yards from the den. The mother turned and started to leave, but the cub moved up the slope to feed, leaving her alone again. The mother again started back to the cub at the fox's den. She was joined by the cub near her, and both walked to the den. The mother left at once, and after some delay, the cubs followed her. The fox had left for another den almost half a mile away, which it approached in a state of excitement as indicated by the tail extended vertically, straight as a ramrod. There may have been fox pups at both dens because this incident occurred in the middle of July when pups are large enough to move from one den to another.

I have seen many fox's dens but only one showed any indication that a bear had tried excavation to get at the young. Dens usually have several entrances so that a bear might have difficulty digging out a fox. A bear had dug into several entrances of a fox's den at Milepost 48, but had not excavated deeply (Fig. 58).

Fig. 58. I have observed numerous fox dens located in choice bear country but rarely have seen any disturbance of them by bears.

When bears feed in the vicinity of a fox's den, a parent may keep a sharp eye on the bears. One day in early June a pair of bears and two lone bears were digging roots on a river bar. For over an hour I watched a fox sit erect on haunches near her den eyeing the bears, the nearest one being about 150 yards away.

In late July, two bear families grazed all day between 200 and 300 yards from a fox's den. Much of the time one to three foxes could be seen watching the bears. A dozen ground squirrels on the slope between the foxes and the bears also were alert and uttering alarm calls—well they might with two of their most potent enemies in view.

Three different observers have reported seeing a fox play with a grizzly cub. Apparently the play in each case did not involve body contact and the grizzly mothers were indifferent to the play activity.

On 25 September 1963 I watched a fox show special interest in a bear family, for reasons I did not discover. Possibly the bears had fed on meat and the scent lingered. The mother bear was resting on a slope 30 yards above her two yearlings, which were lying where she had nursed them recently. A red fox walked within 10 yards of the cubs and jumped away when one of them sat up. The mother raised her head to look. The bears resumed resting and the fox, after sitting on his haunches a few moments, climbed the slope within 7 or 8 yards of the mother. When she raised her head, he jumped back a yard or two and circled close below her. The mother, perhaps slightly puzzled, walked to her cubs. The fox made a nose inspection of her bed, and departed. Nothing very significant occurred. Animals have their little interests that they must follow up—somewhat like humans.

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Last Updated: 06-Dec-2007