I remember watching a sow and two yearlings crossing the river into Housekeeping Camp almost exactly three years ago today, when the water ran swiftly. The sow and first yearling jumped in and began swimming, but floated downstream quite a distance before reaching the other side. The second cub noticed. She ran upstream before jumping in the river, so that she wouldn’t end up too far downstream past her mother when she got to the other side.

Perhaps this was Yellow 91. She was first captured as a lone yearling later that year; quite possibly this same yearling. She was a smart bear who specialized in getting food out of lockers in Curry Village. She got food out of so many lockers that we began to wonder if she knew how to get into them even when they were closed. It’s always hard to know, considering so many people take the time to put their food in their lockers but don’t bother closing them all the way. If she did know how to get into these lockers, she found a way that we could never quite figure out. We will never know how she did it.

What is it that makes a bear a smart bear, or a shy bear, or an aggressive bear? I remember how difficult she was to scare away even when she was young. Some bears get wary with age; some bears get bolder with age. She got bolder with age, becoming almost immune to the shouts, the banging pots, the flashlights, the noisemakers, the rubber slugs; immune even to the cries of her own cubs, neither of whom lived to be a yearling.

Those unwary, those bold, those smart bears; those bears who approach people with little fear or even bluff charge them–these are the bears of legend. And these are the bears, like Yellow 91 last night, who enter traps and never again leave them alive. These are the bears who, like Yellow 91 at 2:55 this morning, take their last breaths next to a trap on a green tarp on a paved driveway at the wildlife office. These are the bears about whom we tell legendary stories in the hope that no more legends are made.

Yellow 91 (formerly Yellow 10), was a healthy, four-year-old, 162-pound, medium-brown sow. She is now but dust and legend.

Advertisements