This rare glimpse at black bears and gray wolves squaring off in shared habitat, viewed almost 5 million times, holds one hell of an ending.
The clip has been around for over half a year now, but the majority of outlets featuring it continue to make one critical error. This is not a grizzly bear vs wolves scenario. This is a showdown between black bears and wolves. And it is remarkable.
It’s not an uncommon mistake to make. Out west, American black bears (Ursus americanus) are being born with cinnamon colored coats at a remarkable rate. So much so, in fact, that many western ecosystems now house more cinnamon-coat black bears than they do true black black bears. But the distinct shape of Ursus americanus – and their incredible tree climbing abilities – are a dead giveaway for the species in this clip.
It’s Bears vs Wolves in This Remarkable Clip
Look to the top of this dead old evergreen and you’ll see a frightened black bear cub in self-preservation mode. The little one, approaching yearling age, is clearly frightened of something. Enter something: a pack of agitated gray wolves.
At the base of the tree, mama bear gets off the trunk of the tree only to be bluffed by multiple gray wolves. And as soon as they charge, she shoots up the tree with remarkable skill. Classic black bear:
It’s a myth that brown bears (Ursus arctos, which include the grizzly bear subspecies) cannot climb trees. They can, and will. But you’re unlikely to see a brown bear climb one with this much skill or speed.
Black bears have a much lower center of gravity. This, alongside their much shorter, stouter, and sharper claws, have Ursus americanus built for tree climbing. It’s what they do best. Outside of eating, that is. So when a pack of wolves or any threat comes charging, their first line of defense will always be scaling the nearest tree.
We often think of all bears as apex predators, but this title belongs to the brown bear in any habitat they share. Moreover, wolf packs – and even lone wolves – give both bruin species pause in any scenario. Wolves are much more active hunters than most bears. By contrast, opportunistic bears often scavenge the carcasses of wolf kills. And if a pack isn’t done with it, they’ll immediately ward off any bear attempting to feed.
Where is This Encounter Taking Place?
Most likely, there’s a wolf kill nearby the filming of this battle, prompting the pack to keep these curious bears at bay. For most of North America’s mammal-dominated history, or Cenozoic era, this was a common sight across the continent. In modern times, seeing a bear and a wolf in the same vicinity tells us a lot about where such an encounter took place, however.
By the vegetation, terrain, and color of the black bear’s coat, this looks to be the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; specifically the national park itself. With around 4 million people visiting Yellowstone each year, there are a lot of eyeballs and cameras pointed at bears and wolves. And if I spot these two species on my next trip to the park, you can bet I’ll be one of them.
For more on the incredible megafauna of America’s first national park, see our Yellowstone National Park Wildlife next.