Recently my inbox has been flooded with folks sending me links to a very disturbing story, one which which makes bear lovers, like myself, cringe. Apparently, a man by the name of Larry Griffith from New Mexico filmed a bear running down a river towards his group of 10 bear viewers. He proceeded to exaggerate and misinterpret the circumstances, making himself a ripe pick for the media and all its self-perpetuated, spiraling sagas. As his account is doing the bears no favors, I feel motivated to clear up this controversy for both bears and honest bear viewing guides out there. I’ve made a career of guiding on the Katmai coast, so for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.
Initially, I would like to preface the following by stating that viewing wildlife, at times, is just that – WILD. Experiencing bears running in your direction is a common occurrence when seated in their habitat. It’s what they do. They run from bears, they run for fish and sometimes they just run. It looks to me like the people got exactly what they were after- an exhilarating glimpse into the daily life of the giant Alaskan brown (coastal grizzly) bear. If one needs a 100% risk free bear experience, they should visit a zoo, although there have many more animal attacks in zoos than in Katmai National Park!
First, here are two links you can view to see the story. The first is from MSNBC (sorry for the annoying pre-commercial).
This one is from a dubious online site from across the pond. CLICK HERE
Ok, so now that you have seen the video and the article, let me explain. First of all, this was not one of my groups, and I have never met Larry Griffith. If I was guiding this group, no one would have been “frozen with fear,” because I would have talked them through the whole scenario. From what I can tell, the bear was startled by another bear upriver or in the brush- it happens all the time- and ran downriver to get some space. The bear was not charging the group, and the group was in no danger. I am quite sure the guide explained this to the folks, and prepped them for such possible scenarios before they hit the beach. I think what really happened is that Larry Griffith either wasn’t listening, or more likely, ignored the facts to make a sellable news story, and the media did what they do best- sensationalized and exaggerated reality to the maximum.
After seeing the first few seconds of video, I knew exactly where this happened, because I have guided here hundreds of times. This is a bay called Geographic Harbor, on the coast of Katmai, and it is a spectacular place to watch bears fishing, and is among the safest places to view bears in the wild. Groups have been guided to see bears here for over twenty years , and the trust and comfort level between bears and people is as high as anywhere on earth. What the Griffiths experienced was an amazing result of decades of responsible actions by a small number of dedicated, respectful outfitters, and the predictable, non-confrontational nature of the bears. This is a wildlife encounter that equals the intensity and intimacy of sitting with gorillas in Uganda , and has an equally clean safety record.
The bear viewing industry has done wonders in the state of Alaska for bear support and conservation. Each summer thousands of visitors learn that bears are not the monsters of myth, legend and media. They are beautiful, intelligent and awesome creatures which are worth much more alive than dead, both as stewards of their own habitat, and as cornerstones of the Alaskan economy. Larry Griffith and the dozens of media sites carrying this story should be ashamed.