‘The Boss’: Banff National Park Urges Visitors to ‘Stay Away’ From 600-Pound ‘Cannibal’ Bear

by Jon D. B.
(Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“He’s the most dominant male grizzly bear in the Bow Valley… And there’s nothing else in the food chain that could push him off.”

So says Dan Rafla of Bear 122, the 600-pound grizzly bear known to locals as “The Boss.”

Rafla is a human-wildlife coexistence specialist with Parks Canada. And while he admires Bear 122 as much as anyone else, he’s doubling down on Banff National Park‘s warning towards visitors to not idolize this enormous, wildly dangerous predator.

“There are only a few grizzlies that big in the area, so people become more familiar with the bears they get to see more,” Rafla adds for The Culture Trip. “He’s seen enough to be recognized.”

Like many experts in Banff’s area, Rafla is worried that Bear 122’s “celebrity” will lead towards a fatality. Once tourists become familiar with and begin idolizing specific animals, bad things happen. National park visitors across North America have been proving this throughout 2021.

“It has personalized him to the point people think it’s just part of the park experience to go see and meet him,” echoes Parks Canada ecologist Ryan Phinney. “With a name, it attaches all kinds of ideas and expectations to an animal, it can define it. We don’t want people to see these animals as celebrities because it minimizes them, their impact on the environment and their richness as animals.”

Which is, as any scientist or wildlife technician (like this Outsider) will tell you, wildly dangerous. Wild animals are wild. They are unpredictable. And humans, well, humans are food to bears.

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It’s an understandable urge, however. Referring to the 600-pound behemoth bruin – the largest grizzly bear in Banff National Park – as “The Boss” is tempting. Like Springsteen, he’s got a lot going for him.

For one, Bear 122 is living a long, fruitful life for a grizzly. He’s believed to be around 20-years-old, and most in the species die fast and young (think 5-10 years). His prowess and size also have consequences humans are less likely to celebrate, though. Like his penchant for eating other bears.

Cannibalism isn’t all that uncommon in nature. It’s not unheard of in bears, either. Nearly all ursine species birth males that grow up to seek out and kill younger bears of their species. Fewer cubs means less competition. And Bear 122 has mastered this.

Consuming other bears in a predatory manner, however, is rare. Yet Bear 122 does it anyway. In 2013, “The Boss” would kill and eat a “smaller rival” in Sundance Canyon.

“It had been completely consumed,” human-wildlife conflict specialist with Banff National Park Steve Michel would tell The National Post at the time. “There was nothing remaining other than a skull, a hide, the four paws and some bones. [The Boss] is definitely the dominant animal out on the landscape, so there are very few animals that would compare against him in terms of size.”

All of this considered, Banff National Park rangers are urging visitors to steer clear of all bears – including 122. He hasn’t proven aggressive towards humans yet, but if one thing is certain, it’s that there’s no fight another bear will lose that a human can win.