Removing a Wire Snare from 854 Divot

August 04, 2014 Posted by: Michael Fitz
Pop! When I saw the tranquilizing dart strike 854 Divot, I knew that there was much work to do and we needed to be quick about it, but I couldn’t help but feel a sigh of relief. “This might just work,” I thought, “We’ll be able to remove the snare.” Frankly, I never thought we’d get the opportunity.

About the Bear
854 Divot is a bear that was raised as a cub along the Brooks River. She was first classified as an independent 2.5 year-old bear in 2004 and is now 12 years old. She was a bear that rangers and many people who visited Brooks Camp got to know. For the first 8-9 years of her life, she was frequently seen fishing in the Brooks River, and even learned to recognize an easy meal and take fish from anglers who fished too close to her. 

Over time, she was seen less frequently along the Brooks River and during the past two years, she was hardly seen at all. She was never known to have cubs, but in August 2013 she arrived along the Brooks River with two spring cubs. She returned on July 12th for a brief appearance with her two yearlings.

854 Divot and yearling cubs on July 12, 2014
854 Divot and her two yearling cubs made an appearance at Brooks Camp on July 12, 2014. (NPS/M. Fitz)

On July 28, 2014, a bear with one yearling was reported walking along the beach at Brooks Camp. Being the bear-watching junkie that I am, I rushed outside to see the family. I immediately recognized Divot with one yearling cub. At the same time, I saw something wrapped around her neck. No bears in the Katmai region are currently radio-collared. Her necklace was something else, something that would likely be life threatening if left untreated. Upon closer inspection, the rangers and biologists at Brooks Camp were saddened to conclude that her necklace was probably a wire snare which was cutting slowly into her neck.

854 Divot with a snare around her neck
Bears are tough animals with a high tolerance for pain, but the snare around 854's neck would likely cause a fatal injury in time. (NPS/M. Saxton and B. Plog)

Making Our Move
Few things, except changes in weather, happen quickly in bush Alaska. Tranquilizing bears and handling them is something Katmai’s staff almost never does. No bears have been tranquilized at Brooks Camp since the 1970s and no bear has been killed at Brooks Camp since 1983. With no staff certified to handle tranquilizing drugs or dart bears, we had to rely on outside help.

Calls were made to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices in King Salmon, but their biologists were unable to assist. Luckily Grant Hilderbrand, a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service, was available. However, he lives in Anchorage and couldn’t get to Brooks Camp until mid-day on July 29.

We had the staff to assist Grant and he had the experience to tranquilize and handle the bear, but we didn’t know whether or not 854 Divot would appear again and give us the opportunity to tranquilize her and remove the snare. Katmai is a big place with much room for bears to roam. After all, most bears were finding fishing in the Brooks River too difficult. Consequently, almost all bears have moved to other streams to fish for salmon. As we awaited Grant’s arrival, our plan was to let 854 Divot come to us and track her if she moved away. We had no other choice. We had to get lucky. 

Tracking the Bear
On the morning of July 29, she returned with her yearling near the NPS housing at Lake Brooks. She walked down the road from Lake Brooks toward the lower Brooks River. Eventually, she crossed the river and walked along the beach at Brooks Camp toward Dumpling Mountain.

If she disappeared into the forest on Dumpling Mountain, I had little hope that we’d ever find her again. The forest is thick and grass can be 4-5 feet high in open meadows in mid-summer. We’d be foolish to believe we could track her on the slopes of the mountain or even match her speed in such terrain. 

Fortunately, Divot and yearling stuck to the shoreline along Dumpling Mountain. Even so, it was difficult for people to walk at a bear’s pace on Dumpling’s uneven shoreline. What we couldn’t do on foot, however, we could do in a boat. Staff jumped in a boat to watch her movements along the edge of Naknek Lake. After walking about 2 miles from Brooks Camp, she turned up a small creek on the side of Dumpling Mountain. By this time, Grant was on his way to Brooks Camp. If she came out of the forest, perhaps we’d have the opportunity we needed.

Taking a Shot
You won’t find Dumpling Creek on a map. It’s not an official name, but it’s the main drainage on the east side of Dumpling Mountain. Small numbers of salmon spawn in it. The creek is also a small and shallow stream, usually less than four feet wide so it is easy for bears to fish. If Divot found success fishing here, maybe she’d stick around.

By noon on July 29, there were two boats watching the shore near Dumpling Creek. Several members of the team, staying together, noisily ventured into the forest near the creek in the hopes that our noise would disturb the bear family enough that she’d appear on the beach. When that didn’t work, we were back to the waiting game. 

Around 4 PM, just as we were about to leave and head back to camp, the bears appeared on the beach a few hundred feet from the creek. This looked like our opportunity. The boat with Grant and myself motored to shore along the bear’s line of travel, but she came too quickly and Grant was unable to get a shot. Within a few more seconds, she turned and walked up the creek and into the forest where it would be too difficult to find her.

854 Divot walks quickly on the beach near Dumpling Creek on July 29, 2014
854 and her yearling walked by our boat before we were set on July 29. (NPS/M. Fitz)

We all felt dejected. She came and went fast. Was that our one and only opportunity? She did not reappear that day.

Another Chance?
The next morning, July 30, a boat with two staff members headed to Dumpling Creek to watch the shoreline. The rest of the NPS staff at Brooks Camp was watching to see if Divot would come back to camp. She didn’t arrive in Brooks Camp, but was spotted near Dumpling Creek again. We rushed out to that location to join the other crew, but by that time she was in the forest and couldn’t be seen. The waiting game began again.

Now we had two boats and many pairs of eyeballs watching the shore and forest for the bear. I felt relaxed, but not confident that she would reappear. Around 12:20 PM, 854 Divot and her yearling emerged from the forest several hundred yards from the outlet of Dumpling Creek and began walking toward us. This was our chance.

Grant directed the boat he was on to land on the shore, bow first, a couple of hundred yards between the bears and the creek. He wanted the tranquilizer’s effects to immobilize the bear before she got to the creek. With the boat sitting at the shore, Divot was still about 100 yards away. We were were confident that she would walk past us, since she seemed to be a human-habituated bear used to seeing planes, boats, and people near Brooks Camp.

NPS wildlife biologist Grant Hilderbrand fires a tranquilizing dart at 854 Divot
On July 30, Grant was able to target 854 as she walked on the beach near Dumpling Creek. (NPS/M. Fitz)

Unlike yesterday, her pace allowed Grant to get set before she was too far away. As she continued toward the boat, we all sat quietly hoping to not alter her course. She continued to walk right towards us, and then—POW! Grant fired and the dart struck her shoulder.

Grant decided to target her shoulder instead of her rump in the hope that the tranquilizer’s effects would subdue the bear before she reached the small creek nearby and potentially drown. Of course, the large lake next to us was just as big of a concern, but the beach was the only place where we could see her. We were fortunate that she even appeared at all. 

Divot viciously snapped at the dart after it hit her, but then started running down the beach with her yearling in tow. Within a hundred yards of getting struck, she began to wobble. First her hind legs lost mobility, then her front legs, then she collapsed on the beach.

854 Divot lying on the lakeshore after being tranquilized
854 collapsed on the beach not far from where she was shot with the tranquilizing dart. Her yearling cub stood by her side until the team of biologists and rangers approached. (NPS/M. Fitz)

Treating the Bear
After a couple of minutes, she was down for the count. She wouldn’t gain any mobility again for at least another hour and wouldn’t be able to walk normally for several more. We had time to work with, but we didn’t want to delay getting the snare off of her neck. 

The snare had cut deeply into her neck and was very tight. It was like someone had scored her with a knife. Sherri Anderson, wildlife biologist for Katmai, cut the snare off with bolt cutters, while Grant directed the rest of the crew. After the snare was removed, we took hair and blood samples, applied a lip tattoo, and removed the dart. The wound around her neck was measured to be about an inch deep. It was treated with an iodine-like liquid called betadine to inhibit infection.

Biologists Sherri Anderson and Grant Hilderbrand treating the wound on 854's neck after the snare was removed
Biologists Sherri Anderson (left) and Grant Hilderbrand (right) worked quickly and efficiently to remove the snare around 854's neck. (NPS/M. Fitz)

Divot was still close to the water, too close in fact. When she began to move again she wouldn’t have full use of her limbs. She could fall in the lake and drown. Our last task was to move her off of the beach and into the grass to reduce that risk.

Have you ever tried to carry a bear? 854 Divot probably weighed about 400 lbs (182 kg), but moving her limp body was no easy chore. After much repositioning and repeated lifts, we succeeded in moving her off the beach and just into the grass where she would be less likely to tumble into the water.

What about the cub?
As expected, the yearling cub was never far away. Sometimes, it was within 30 feet (9.1 m) of us. Typically, when a mother bear is tranquilized her cubs stay nearby. They may bawl and wander around closely, but don’t leave the  area. That’s exactly what Divot’s yearling did. Within minutes of our departure, the yearling was at the side of its sedated mother.

Waiting for 854 to Awake
854 Divot was tranquilized around 12:25 PM and she would feel its effects at least for four more hours. After two hours, she was awake but still didn’t have much control over her limbs. We watched her carefully at this stage because there was still a risk of her drowning if she fell into the lake. We also stayed in the boats nearby to watch for other bears. If necessary, we would haze other bears away to prevent them from killing her as she was immobilized. After three hours, she was able to stand and let her cub nurse (the tranquilizer does not enter her milk). She then groggily walked to Dumpling Creek and laid down in it, perhaps to cool off.

By the fourth hour, she was still lethargic and hadn’t moved much. By this time, we felt confident that she could move if she wanted to as well as not drown in the lake. The wind on Naknek Lake was picking up and the small boat I was in doesn’t handle well in high winds so we reluctantly headed back to Brooks Camp. However, we were satisfied with our work for the day, which likely gave her a better chance of surviving what was likely a fatal injury caused by the snare.

854 on the beach about two hours after being tranquilized
As 854 began to recover, she crawled down to the beach where she remained until she regain the full use of her legs a few hours later. The green smudge on her muzzle is dye from the application of her lip tattoo. (NPS/M. Fitz)

854 Divot and her yearling have been seen several times since she was tranquilized and treated. Most sightings have been near Dumpling Creek, which contains spawning salmon. She was having fishing success there before she was tranquilized, so it would make sense that she would stay nearby. 

On Saturday, August 2, 854 Divot and her yearling cub made an appearance along the banks of the lower Brooks River. Both bears seemed energetic and playful. I don’t know what the future will hold for this bear and her yearling, but I feel confident we rectified a mistake by removing the snare and gave this bear family the best chance of survival.

A video about the effort to help this bear, including footage of the tranquilizing and handling of the bear can be found at this link:

Katmai, Brown Bear, Brooks Camp, Trapping

38 Comments Comments icon

  1. tt
    March 28, 2019 at 11:40

    thats sad

  2. October 14, 2014 at 03:08

    just happened to read this humbling story. Hats off to the Rangers for helping the Bear

  3. August 16, 2014 at 12:13

    You are awesome and amazing! Thank you.

  4. August 06, 2014 at 05:06

    Doing nothing in this situation would probably have no effect on the bear population of Katmai, however, it had the ultimate effect for Divot and her cub, allowing them to live, and a major effect on these other animals that have the ability to think and reason, and to care about the life of others.

  5. Jo
    August 06, 2014 at 08:01

    Thank you to all Rangers and the assistance they had to take care of Divot. I am glad to hear her and her cub are doing great and looking happy. Thank you for video taping and sharing with all of us who are so far way and love what you all do to give us these opportunities to be a part of your world and the Alaska bear world. God Bless you all stay safe.

  6. August 05, 2014 at 05:24

    Thank you for your blog post. It certainly answered some of my questions - like would the tranquilizer go into 854's milk and affect her yearling? I respect the Park's policy of not intervening when bears are sick or injured through their natural habitat, but clearly this was not such an instance and glad the decision was taken to "save" the bear. Thanks also for documenting it. Very educational and rare for "us all" to have the privilege of seeing such a beautiful creature up close. Also have to add, that I loved the appreciation of everyone involved in the rescue - down to the person who asked if it would be okay to take a photo. Keep up the great work!

  7. August 05, 2014 at 03:49

    Thank you so much for the blog post AND all you did for Divot! All our lives, both bear and human, have been enhanced by what all you Rangers do!! So greatly appreciated!

  8. August 05, 2014 at 01:46

    Reading your blog made me realize the enormous odds against success in the Divot rescue. Everything had to fall precisely in place, and you and your team were amazing in knowing exactly how and when to act in a Seal Team-like endeavor. You all saved an otherwise doomed Divot, and her cub. Thanks for sharing this amazing story.

  9. August 05, 2014 at 01:14

    Thanks for all you did to save Divot. What a wonderful job with a great outcome. You rangers, biologists, and others are the best! I loved the video, too, and thanks so very much for that!

  10. August 05, 2014 at 12:24

    Thank you for the education, and thanks to the Annenburg Foundation. I bet Charlie was watching.

  11. GK
    August 05, 2014 at 11:43

    Thanks for this detailed account of the behind-the-scenes effort to help poor Divot.

  12. August 05, 2014 at 11:33

    It has been said many times before, but it bears repeating! Thank you all for your selflessness and dedication. The video and blog account of Divot's journey are priceless and so appreciated by those of us who are experiencing the joys and heart aches of Katmai from afar. God bless you all and keep you safe.

  13. August 05, 2014 at 11:22

    What a wonderful opportunity to help Divot and her cub. I learned a lot this year and I Thank you all.

  14. Deb
    August 05, 2014 at 11:18

    Beautifully written account of the successful effort to save Divot. Thank you for writing it, but mostly thank you and all the others for caring enough to do this!

  15. August 05, 2014 at 10:10

    Thank you for the opportunity to read about your experience. Wonderful work. You are all truly wonderful people to care so much for the bears.

  16. August 05, 2014 at 10:08

    @Laurie - Tinley Park, IL: I cheated to get that photo. It's a screen capture from the video I was recording.

  17. August 05, 2014 at 09:55

    Your narrative is perfect; it answered so many questions we all had. Informative and exciting as well. And a rare opportunity for all of us to share the experience. Extraordinary effort and many thanks from all of us who watch.

  18. August 05, 2014 at 09:36

    Thank you for letting us be part of the journey. Many thanks go to everyone involved. You all have made a difference.

  19. August 05, 2014 at 09:17

    Thank you for the post Ranger Mike- Pic #4-The dart gun and the camera shutter went off at the same instant-how cool is that? Thanks again to all involved with this mission! GREAT JOB!!

  20. August 05, 2014 at 07:32

    Thank you for the blog post and the video - brilliant operation! Love and much respect and admiration for everything that the National Park Service staff does to care for our wildlife and to educate and inform those of us who are not fortunate enough to see these magnificent creatures in person!

  21. August 05, 2014 at 06:52

    Thank you!I repeat:Your combined efforts,your endurance and skills caused a striking success.Thank`s for reporting.

  22. August 05, 2014 at 05:20

    In a world where it is increasingly difficult to find people who care more for others instead of themselves I find that i like Forest Rangers very much. To put yourself in the path of that bears mouth even if she was asleep is selfless. Bless all of you.

  23. August 05, 2014 at 02:20

    very good summary and description of the mission 854 Divot Ranger Mike. thanks a lot that your all of us through the reports and pictures and movies keep up to date, i am almost feel as if iam here!! its great to learn so much from you about bears life. I appreciate your open and honest statements very!! please go on

  24. August 05, 2014 at 12:26

    True hero's don't need a million dollar a year contract. They don't need publicity. They don't need an agent. A true hero only needs a caring heart. There are a lot of big hearted people within our National Park Service, including those men and women of Katmai.

  25. August 04, 2014 at 11:51

    Brilliant!!! Inspired dedication and Divine serendipity coming together... just a deeply gorgeous display of what beauty and equanimity we are capable of... Thank You all for being such magnificent models of humanity.

  26. August 04, 2014 at 10:14

    I was so moved by all of these events, the expertise of the team was very impressive, also the love and care of divot's rescue moved me to tears. Thank you all!

  27. August 04, 2014 at 09:15

    Sometimes you can't "just let nature take its course", especially when this injury was not caused by nature. Thank you Ranger Mike and Ranger Roy and all the rangers involved in helping this bear and her cub.

  28. August 04, 2014 at 09:11

    Thank you Ranger Mike! So glad this event has been documented with this report and the video Ranger Roy made. Both will be shared for many years to come on the Brooks Brown Bear Cam site, and thanks to for giving us the opportunity to be a witness to the work that Park Rangers do and watch the bears in their natural habitat.

  29. Ann
    August 04, 2014 at 08:53

    I read your post Mike and watched the video a couple times and I am so proud of all of you for caring about Divot. I hope this somehow will begin the thinking of how brutal snaring is on a animal and make it illegal. Thank you all for being you...

  30. August 04, 2014 at 08:48

    Thank you ever so much..If I weren't 70+ years old I know what I would do with my life..You're all angels..

  31. August 04, 2014 at 08:37

    I am so happy for Divot and her cub and very pleased with everyone's efforts to make this happen. Thank You all very much.

  32. August 04, 2014 at 08:36

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience with everyone. While many of us are many thousands of miles away from all the bears at Brooks camp we all feel an attachment to them. Seeing Divot injured was devastating to many of us. Thank you to all the Rangers involved on her rescue mission. Not only did you save Divot's life, but that of her cub who doubtless could not survive without his mother.

  33. August 04, 2014 at 08:35

    Thank you so much for this explanation! Thank you for saving Divot and giving her cubbie a chance to remain with her.

  34. August 04, 2014 at 08:23

    Thank you for the report and all the work you and others do.

  35. Sue
    August 04, 2014 at 08:01

    Thank you for the blog. Thank you for the information on the bear and her history around Brooks.

  36. August 04, 2014 at 07:53

    Excellent report. It explains everything so well. The NPS should be so proud of the Mission Divot team. I sure am! Thank you for caring about 854 Divot and taking steps to treat her human-caused injury.

  37. August 04, 2014 at 07:51

    After watching Ranger Roy's video of the incident, I enjoyed reading your version of the triumphant endeavor of saving Divot. I plan to share this amazing story with my high school biology students in the near future. Thank you for providing the public this opportunity to share your experiences as park rangers.

  38. August 04, 2014 at 07:23

    Thank you all so much! This was a miracle, however it was accomplished with the extraordinary skill and care of the Katmai NPS.

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