When visiting a national park, we all hope for a chance to see some beautiful wildlife … but you definitely don't want to be this close!

During a camping trip in Alaska's Katmai National Park, Geoff Glassner ended up in one of the most dangerous close encounters a camper can have: one with a mother grizzly bear and her cubs. During their meeting, he managed to catch two minutes of seriously tense footage.

Over the course of the video, Glassner backs slowly down the trail as the three bears plod along after him. The intrepid camper remains admirably calm, but as the video continues, his breath grows more laboured and his words more nervous: "The cubs just keep coming. Oh, come on!"

Thankfully, Glassner manages to keep from tripping over backwards – or getting mauled – and the video ends happily with the two cubs frolicking by the water's edge. That's pretty lucky: his brush with bears could easily have gone very differently.

Anyone who has gone camping in bear country has (hopefully) learned the proper techniques for dealing with bear encounters – don't run, walk away slowly, make some noise, etc. – but this is not your typical situation.

Bear biologist Anne Braaten of North Cascades National Park weighed in on the encounter for us after watching the footage. Paying close attention to the big bear's ears, she explained that the momma's body language was not threatening or agitated.

"She's a dominant bear who knows that she can get her way," Braaten said. "I think I would have gone ahead and pulled up off the trail, probably as far as I could, and let them go by."

But this is a strange case for many reasons, not least because the bears in Katmai are unusually accustomed to humans. Almost anywhere else across their range, Braaten says, a mother bear would probably not be comfortable being so close to a human, especially with her cubs nearby. "Since they're visible to each other, she probably either would have taken off already or she might be bluff-charging [the person] to try to remove that threat."

Standard procedure for encountering a bear in the woods is to stand still and assess the situation. If the bear is being very noisy towards you, it's a sign of agitation, and Braaten suggests slowly walking away not backwards, but sideways. Not only does this signal "I'm not a threat" in bear body language, but it also means you can actually look where you're going (unlike Glassner in this video).

Of course, a mother with cubs is a particularly volatile situation. "If I met a female grizzly bear with cubs anywhere [besides Katmai]," Braaten said, "I would stand still, turn sideways and apologise quietly."

Even in a park like this one, visitors should never intentionally get close to wild bears. Glassner is fortunate that his encounter ended as happily as it did. This mother bear may not have been aggressive towards him, but she certainly wasn't friendly. At the end of the video, while the cubs are bouncing around on the shore, you can see her turn to look in the direction of the human interloper … she doesn't want him getting close.

"You should maintain at least a 50-yard distance between you and any bears, and I would say a lot more than that between you and a female with cubs," Braaten said. "Just out of respect for the bears, if nothing else." (Respect for your own safety is a good motivator, too!)

Katmai National Park is an important habitat for brown bears, and their website features a Live Bear Cam where, if you're lucky, you can observe the fuzzy bruins in their natural environment … and from a safe distance!



Top header image: Pixabay