Katmai National Park: My favorite bear

A look at the bear that stole my heart

Brooks Falls bear
Brooks Falls bears
My favorite bear (left), in her favorite spot, at the lip of Brooks Falls

 

“That girl’s gonna be the first female president,” I said, and Dale laughed.  He understood what I was talking about.

We were on the Brooks Falls platform, observing the bears.  The falls provide the best fishing on the river, and, while the occasional mom and cubs passed through, the area was dominated by big boars.  Amidst all of them, however, stood a little female, waiting patiently at the lip as the salmon jumped around her.  

We’d been watching her all week, this mystery subadult.  She was a crowd favorite because she frequently fished at the lip of the falls, making her the center of attention and the subject of all those Brooks Falls money shots.

Bear catching salmon at Brooks Falls

But there was also something special about this bear.  She was a cutie to be sure, demure and curvy, with blonde fuzzy ears and soulful brown eyes.  But she was also so…optimistic.  She stood at the lip for what seemed like hours, watching fish after fish jump past her, unperturbed by the fact that most of them weren’t catchable.  We admired her tenacity, exhaling a collective “awww” when she dropped a fish and cheering when she caught one.

She also defended herself several times against other, much bigger bears.  We watched her navigate one particularly intense encounter with an enormous boar.   Our girl was fishing the lip but the big boy wanted her gone.  He approached her, those tree-trunk-sized thighs powering him through the water.  She stood her ground for at least a minute, if not more, which felt like an eternity of growling and bared teeth.  Eventually, she started to relent, which was probably inevitable; he was so much bigger and had chased her off before.  Slowly, carefully, she backed away, keeping distance between herself and the big guy while still pushing back.

In this interaction, observe how she challenges the boar while also keeping the rock between them:

 

Brooks Falls bear fight

 

When she reached the fish ladder (a slab of concrete steps that salmon once used to jump the falls), she went down it backwards, placing each footstep precisely while keeping her eyes on the boar.  It was fascinating to watch her negotiate the situation.  We saw bears much larger than her relent much more quickly in one-to-one conflicts.  This little female handled the interaction with finesse, maneuvering out of reach without a scratch.

She was resilient to boot: once the boar was gone, she returned to her spot at the lip.

A  bear without a name

Brooks Falls bear

Although many of the bears that fish the river are known and numbered, no one knew who she was.  Of course, even park rangers have difficulty distinguishing between all of the bears, especially the subadults just emerging on the scene, which our girl certainly was.  And typically bears are not assigned an ID until they’ve lived on their own for a few years.

This brave little bear was a nobody, but she’d quickly become my favorite, and I wanted a name for her.  I ran through the possibilities.  It had to be a girl’s name, of course, but not just any girl.  This bear was special—optimistic, intelligent, and a little bit of a badass—and her name had to reflect her character.

Brooks Falls bear

My thoughts landed on one of my favorite historical figures, Queen Elizabeth I (yes, I am a nerd).  I’m talking not about the current queen but about the one who ruled in the 16th century.  England flourished under her rule, and she was such a remarkable leader that an entire historical era (the Elizabethan Age) was named after her.  What I admire about Elizabeth is that she believed in her own mind and saw no reason why a woman couldn’t rule an empire.  Her faith in herself—in the face of overwhelming testosterone—is incredibly compelling.

Brooks Falls bear

My bear, too, was compelling.  She had it all—intelligence, diplomacy, self-preservation, and beauty.   And now (since I’d unilaterally decided to call her ‘Elizabeth’) she had the name of a queen.

So there you go.

Yes, I know.  I’m comparing a creature of the wilderness to a member of the British royal family.  I’m personifying an animal that’s driven not by the desire to rule the world but by an instinct to eat a shit ton of fish.  I’m humanizing an animal that shouldn’t be humanized, because she’s utterly wild and potentially dangerous and not cute, cuddly, or my best friend.

But I. Don’t. Care.

I fell in love.  And love is not rational.

Love leads one to do crazy things, like naming the object of one’s affection after a queen.

So just roll with it, OK?

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to Elizabeth.

Brooks Falls bear

Little Lip Fisher

When we got back to civilization and started doing research for the blog, I looked for more information about Elizabeth.  Katmai’s bears are internationally famous, made so by the Explore.org BearCams.  Millions of people watch the BearCams.  The National Park Service puts out an ebook every year called The Bears of Brooks Riverand fans profile many of the bears online.

But Elizabeth, an anonymous subadult, wasn’t one of those bears.  I didn’t find anything on her, in fact, until I came across a website called Fandom.  Most of the pages on this fan site are dedicated to video games, movies, and TV, but there’s also one devoted to the BearCams and Brooks Camp bears.  One of its more recent posts was entitled, 2017 Little Lip Fisher – Who are you?

Little Lip Fisher?  Hmm.  Could this be my bear?

The entire post was dedicated to revealing the identify of a mystery bear that had fished the falls over the summer of 2017.  The author, whose pen name is “LovesTheCams,” had put together an in-depth investigation into this bear’s ID, complete with photos and videos of her from various sources.  Turns out that people had been paying attention to her.  There’d been much speculation about her amongst bear cam fans and rangers, with people trying to trace her lineage to various mama bears within the park, but as of yet no one has determined who she is.

Brooks Falls bear
Who are you???

Regardless of her lineage or ID, it became obvious as I looked at the evidence that this was our girl—this was Elizabeth.

In October, a news flash was added to the post—park rangers had obtained a sample of Little Lip Fisher’s DNA, putting to rest some of the speculation without definitively determining her lineage, so the rangers dubbed her “Not-505” (referring, I think, to the fact that some thought she might be a bear known as 505).  “Not-505” (terrible name!) will be her ID until her identity can be established or a new number assigned to her.

Just a bear

The downside of finding all this information on my bear was that some of it didn’t match my vision of her.  Turns out I’d put Queen Elizabeth on a pedestal.  She’s been known, for example, to beg (how beneath her!).  She also gets pushed around—by cubs.  And in this video, she rather unceremoniously loses her footing and slides over the lip of the falls.  Granted, it happened during a confrontation with renowned mama bear Grazer, a formidable female in her own right; nonetheless, the event was rather undignified.

Fine.  I give in.  She’s just a bear.

(Don’t stick your tongue out. It’s not lady-like.)

But the evidence compiled by LovesTheCams also reveals that, as the summer progressed into autumn, this little gal gained confidence in her ability to fish the Brooks River.  She is, after all, just an adolescent.  She hasn’t even reached adulthood, and yet she’s handling tense situations with aplomb.  If she survives to adulthood, she’ll become a bear to be reckoned with.

Elizabeth may never be the leader of the free world or the royal sovereign of a small, proud nation, but you watch; she may, one day, rule Brooks Falls.

Long live the queen.

Brooks Falls bear
Yes, you may kiss my paw

Notes:

Random thoughts about our bear’s name

You should know that Dale’s not crazy about Elizabeth.  He thinks it’s too long and too obscure.  For reasons too convoluted to explain here, he prefers the name Nova, which is actually kinda cool.  That being said, as we pulled together photos for this post, one in particular revealed an interesting possibility:

Brooks Falls bear

Ah, that smile; that mysterious smile.  Worn by our mystery girl.  Remind you of any one?

Another mysterious female

I’m not married to the name Elizabeth; I could be persuaded to go with, say, ‘Mona Lisa’ instead.

More about Not-505 (a.k.a., Elizabeth / Mona Lisa /  Little Lip Fisher)

Below is a list of videos that highlight our bear’s skill, youth, and beauty:

Here she is, standing at the lip of the falls. (September 2017)

Another video  of her standing at the lip, alongside a bear known as 503.  Just look at how cute she is!  (September 26, 2017)

Here she successfully catches a fish!  (September 19, 2017)

And another successful catch.   (September 22, 2017)

And another fish.  So freakin’ cute….  (September 30, 2017)

Here, a huge boar pursues her in an attempt to take her fish (September 2017)

In this video, she’s harassed by two other, bigger bears.  (September 27, 2017)

Here’s the infamous confrontation with Grazer.

And here are Grazer’s cubs, giving Elizabeth a hard time (but one of them gets his comeuppance with his own trip over the falls).

Many thanks to LovesTheCams for all of the work that he or she put into compiling information about the Little Lip Fisher.

More about fierce mama bear Grazer

Grazer (128) is a very popular bear, in large part because she’s fiercely protective of her cubs.  She’s been known to attack much larger boars to protect her cubs; here, for example, she attacks a bear who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Watch to the end to see her cubs, which she treed for their protection.  She even made national news—she rescued all three of her cubs, when, one after another, they tumbled over the falls.  Finally, here’s the National Park Service profile of her, written in 2016.

Naming bears

This link talks about how some of the more popular bears got their nicknames, and this link talks about whether or not we should name bears at all.