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Fauna Series No. 5








Dall Sheep



Grizzly Bear

Red Fox

Golden Eagle



Fauna of the National Parks — No. 5
The Wolves of Mount McKinley
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ACCORDING to C. Hart Merriam (1918) there are two species of grizzlies in Mount McKinley National Park.1 All but one of several bears collected in the park by Charles Sheldon were identified as Ursus toklat of the "Alascensis Group." Members of this group range to the west as far as Bering Sea. One grizzly which was shot and an old skull which was picked up were referred to Ursus kluane, a species belonging to the "Hylodromus Group" which ranges eastward from Mount McKinley National Park. (Sheldon, 1930, p. 379.)

There is considerable variation among the bears in their general appearance. Some are light in color, others dark. Large dark males were seen with light-colored females. In one case a light-colored female was followed by a large dark male and a light straw-colored male. A noticeable variation in color was present in three yearlings belonging to the same family.

Since various combinations of these bears were seen mating, all are believed to belong to the same species.

The bears are all darker in the late summer and fall when their coats are new and unbleached. Early in August, one bear was seen which was a rich chestnut color, quite different from that of the average bear. In the spring and early summer most of the bears are a light straw color over the back and their legs and faces are dark. Some of them are so faded that in the distance they may be mistaken (if casually observed) for mountain sheep.

Grizzlies were encountered in all parts of the park that I visited. They were generally found in the treeless terrain which seems to be their chosen habitat, but they were also frequently noted in the narrow strips of woods along the streams. They roam over the mountain slopes and valley bottoms in their foraging, climbing the mountains with surprising speed if disturbed. No counts were made but I estimate that there are from 50 to 75 grizzlies between Park Headquarters and Wonder Lake.

Figure 53: A grizzly in fall coat feeding on buffaloberries. [East Fork River, September 23, 1939.]

I found the grizzlies unusually well behaved. Many times they were encountered at relatively close quarters, that is close enough so that they became keenly aware of my presence. Once, while sitting on a rock watching sheep, I heard a loud snort close behind me. On turning I saw a mother and her yearling galloping up the slope about 100 yards away. One day my companion and I met a female with three cubs as we rounded the lower part of a ridge. We were about 100 yards from her, far from trees and unarmed; we continued walking but changed our course about 70 degrees. She stood placidly watching us and soon resumed her grazing. Once in the open tundra a bear, which had been hidden in a gully, loomed up 150 yards in front of me. It stood up on its hind legs for a half minute looking me over and then moved around to one side. When it had passed me it broke into a gallop, crossed a broad river bar, and hurried up a slope on the other side. In late August my companion and I found ourselves in an unexpected predicament. We were approaching the small relief cabin on Copper bar which is built in the open far from any trees. When 15 or 20 yards from the cabin we saw a grizzly about 60 yards behind the structure, standing on its hind legs looking for a ground squirrel. Then the ground squirrel broke forth from the clump of willows and scurried for the cabin. The grizzly came in hot pursuit. We did not know which way we should scurry, for obviously when the bear arrived at the cabin it would be almost upon us. Soon we also were dashing toward the cabin. When we arrived we found that the storm door was held rigidly in place by four bolts. Fortunately the bolts came out with a jerk and we found the inside door unlocked. I peeked around the corner of the cabin and the grizzly made two bluffing lunges toward me. It then walked away slowly, growling at intervals.

Some bears which were frequently seen became unafraid and permitted a close approach. One or two of them at garbage heaps became too tame. The chief danger to a person in the hills is in meeting a bear unexpectedly at close quarters. The grizzlies usually are peaceably inclined and run away when disturbed.

1 Black bears (Euarctos a. americanus) are occasionally seen in the lower wooded sections but are scarce. I never saw one.

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