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Brown Bear Story: Mike Fitz

mike brar

“For me, one of the most unforgettable bearcam moments is also the most poignant. On October 21, 2015 bearcam viewers watched one of 451’s spring cubs stumble and fall to the ground. Two days later, with its mother and surviving sibling nearby, it died. This screen shot captures 451 resting near her dying cub.

When I first took note of the situation, I simply saw a mother bear resting near her cub and did not note anything unusual. After scanning the cam’s comments and witnessing the cub’s prolonged lethargy for myself I soon realized this was anything but usual. None of us, bearcam viewers and park staff alike, had ever seen anything like this. (Necropsy results later indicated the cub likely died from canine adenovirus.)

To be very clear, this isn’t a “favorite” moment of mine. I take no pleasure from watching animals suffer, but the cub’s plight was one of the most surprising, interesting, and meaningful situations I ever witnessed.

Images and videos from this time conjure a wide variety of thoughts and emotions. These are a reminder of the empathy viewers expressed for the cub and 451. They’re reminiscent of the frustration people felt knowing they couldn’t or shouldn’t help. In a sense too, the footage and screen shots illustrate the public’s generosity (the situation later spurred over $10,000 of donations to support brown bear research at Brooks River). They also remind me of 451’s patience and vigilance and the important insights that led us to discover more about a potentially deadly wildlife disease. These are images of nature in the raw, a real and uncensored view of bear life, and why I consider this to be one of bearcam’s most memorable moments.” – Mike Fitz

If you would like to submit your own brown bear story, please submit here!

  • Stacey

    Perfect, Ranger Mike.

    Thank you for posting this.

  • Donna Simi

    Outstanding, perfectly worded, as tears roll out my eyes, thank you @Mike Fitz for sharing. This story is in all our hearts ❤️

  • Kat in TX

    By far the most memorable moments (not favorite, as Mike said) for me. Was the most gut wrenching, emotional hours watching the demise of this cub play out.

    Watching Mother and sibling during that time was something that will stay with me forever, especially since according to Rangers this type of behavior by a mother bear is not typical has never been witnessed before.

    I would not have been able to witness all of this if it were not for the uncensored views that Explore.org brings into millions of homes around the world.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/597d1d7fda67a14777888840708ea07b3650feee6e973ee88c12a7cc629b1b3c.jpg

  • Juergen

    your words express my feelings about watching this , never lerned so much about wildlive/nature as when this happend.
    TY Mike

    • TomD

      TY for sharing

  • Juergen

    for those who are not familiar with , what happend
    look here please
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxWfgiOOCcfnkT08depYjfTlNX7vmQ-OA

  • Adanac

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/83e8fa6ba81be72e9ee5142a9639040164e87af3df079e2b94420da8d2797266.jpg
    The way she is sitting because of her injured leg….with her surviving cub…breaks my heart. The strength of a mother….

  • Birgitt

    Thanks Mike. This was before my time, but I have watched a number of vids of it. A very sad thing to witness, but one that provided so many opportunities for learning on so many levels. For me the question it raised was; Do mother bears mourn? And watching 451 in the aftermath, I would answer ‘yes’.

    • doodlebear

      Most definitely. I have watched domestic animals mourn and know that they do. In the wild, survival has to take top priority but they clearly do feel emotions.

      • Birgitt

        Yes, I agree. Although none of my cats (so far) have been that close to each other that I saw extended grieving. And agreed about survival being the priority. (Also, I wrote a novella to Mike Fitz above, if you are interested.)

        • doodlebear

          When our dog Casper died, our other dog, Daisy was lost. She went out and stood over his grave every day for a few weeks, and even tried to dig him up. It was several months before she started to act normally again. Animals don’t grieve the way we do. But the loss is real to them.

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      I don’t know for sure, but after watching bears at Brooks River for a number of years I’m convinced bears experience emotions on some level. It might be experienced differently than in humans, but it’s there.

      This old post contains some of my thoughts on emotions in bears. http://blog.explore.org/ranger-mike-on-the-emotion-and-resiliency-of-bears/ It was written when we didn’t quite know what was happening with 451’s cub or whether it would recover.

      • Birgitt

        Thanks for the link. I agree that bears experience emotions. Certainly, many animals exhibit fear. Do they also experience love? And given how difficult it is for humans, with all of our words, to define love, how would we quantify that? How do we even know that you and I feel the same thing when we say that we are sad?

        That said, I was reading the book Cat Sense by anthrozoologist John Bradshaw (follow up to Dog Sense) in which he explores every aspect of cat development and behavior based on the scientific research done around it. I have wanted to post the following excerpt for awhile now and this seems as good a place as any. It is at the beginning of the chapter entitled “Thoughts and Feelings”

        “With “feelings”, our intuitive grasp of our own emotions is bound up in our consciousness: we are aware of our emotions to an extent that cats almost certainly are not. However, new scientific techniques such as brain imaging have revealed that all mammals, and therefore cats, have the mental machinery necessary to produce many of the same emotions we feel, even though they probably experience them in a much more in-the-moment way than we do. We do not have to presume that cats are conscious animals to allow that they are capable of making decisions – decisions based not just on information they are receiving and their memories of similar events, but also their emotional reactions to that information. In other words, it is now scientifically acceptable to explain their behavior in terms of what they “think” and “feel” as long as we bear in mind that cats’ thought processes and their emotional lives are both significantly different from our own.”

        It is not a stretch to say that bears are every bit as mentally sophisticated as cats, although they are certainly cognitively different. I certainly don’t think that 451 felt the loss of her cub in the same way you or I would feel the loss of a child and I don’t know (or way or the other) whether she continues to feel it or whether it would influence her behavior into the future, but I do think that she did feel the loss. (And I would love, in the future to find a way to measure bear emotions.)

        • Lisa Herneisey

          Very interesting info. :)

          • Birgitt

            Thanks. The entire book is fascinating. It talks about how cats were able to transfer their kittenish ties to their mothers to their human caretakers. But there is a very distinct window and if you are too late, they will probably never be tamable. (I have rescued several older feral kittens and been able to mostly tame them, but having the science behind what I was experiencing was great.) I imagine the book on dogs would be equally fascinating and totally different since dogs are social animals.

        • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

          Thanks. Very interesting info. I’m not a cat person, but I might have to read the book.

          • Birgitt

            Well, if you are more of a dog person, his book Dog Sense did come out first. I cannot believe that he does not have an equivalent chapter on “Thoughts and Feelings” in it. Although, I would think that, in social terms, cats are closer to bears than dogs are. ;))

          • bearcat

            Sorry, had to downvote due to “I’m not a cat person.”

          • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

            Ha. I understand.

  • doodlebear

    Thank you for sharing this Mike. This was before my time, although I have seen several mentions of it. It reminds me that these bear cams are not only entertaining, but important. Being able to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural environment without disturbing or alarming them allows all of us to connect with nature in a new way. Learning how they respond and witnessing behavior like grief, compassion, joy, curiosity and sometimes just plain mischievousness gives everyone a new understanding of wild animals.

  • AK Guide
  • MollyGee-TX

    Thank you Mike. Watching that play out for all of us to see was something that I will never forget. I came away with even more love and respect for bears.

  • Alaskawatcher

    Thanks Mike! Those couple of days were very hard to watch but I spent hours doing so. The heartbreaking mourning of the mom and sibling were so hard to take. Nature is amazing. Thanks to Explore and to all of you that were at Brooks for letting that unfold and letting us witness it.

  • BearBell

    Mike, I love your writing…you have a true gift. I couldn’t agree more…your words: “the cub’s plight was one of the most interesting,… and meaningful situations I ever witnessed”, ring so true for me. It was a very meaningful moment in my life even though I witnessed it on a small screen, thousands of miles away from the actual events. The Explore cams brought us a powerful experience, and heartbreaking for sure, but one that many of us can relate to in our personal lives. I will never forget those days , and the amazement of watching .

  • abcayemich

    Tears are streaming down my face. Mike, your words are so poignant and beautiful and it brings it right back to those days where we all watched and grieved all together. Counting the cubs’ respirations and hoping against all hope that it would end in a way that we all knew wasn’t going to be. Thank you for this beautiful remembrance.

  • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

    For those of you who are not familiar with this story, you can find more info on Katmai’s website. https://www.nps.gov/katm/blogs/recent-bear-deaths-at-brooks-river.htm

  • Pansy2

    It amazes me that my heart still aches when i remember those hours of her vigil over her dying cub. It was a community of concern during those days. Thanks for this sensitive story Ranger Mike.

  • amazed

    Heartbreaking memory.

  • Gayle Donahue

    Ranger Mike, I am sickened by the changes in the hunting laws affecting bears and wolves. How do you feel this will play out over this year? It is not even “fair-play” sportsmanship – more like opening up a chance for trophy hunting.

    • Lisa Herneisey

      The news of this breaks my heart :( Why would this even be considered hunting?? Its more like killing for the sake of saying you killed a innocent animal :(

      • Gayle Donahue

        for some unknown reason, this was one of the first bills passed by Congress and signed into law. Apparently backed by reps from Alaska! Shooting in the dens, hunting from planes, food baiting – sick and disgusting

        • Lisa Herneisey

          When I saw this I was crying for the poor animals !!! I’m so sad at the way things are changing right now :( What will we be leaving for our next generations !!!

          • Gayle Donahue

            Lisa – I am still disturbed by some of the changes affecting our environment and wildlife in the last few months. This link has more info on HR 69. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/house-overturns-obama-era-law-protect-alaskan-bears-wolves-n722481
            I do not understand why they were in such a hurry to pass this – House passed in February; Senate passed in March and it was enacted in April.

          • Deborah-TX (2014)

            Alaska is having some deep budget problems. It was “easy” to argue that allowing more hunting would increase permits, hotel stays, transportation etc.

          • Gayle Donahue

            Part of my disagreement is the killing in the dens, hunting from planes, and baiting. As a born Texan, I am not proud of the “big game” hunts there that bait, also. We always try to solve some of our “budget” problems at the expense of the environment, our wildlife and those who cannot fight back.

          • Deborah-TX (2014)

            The folks who wrote a bill allowing any of those tactics AND the lawmakers who voted for them are not sportsmen but killers. I would think this would be a perfect fit for social media campaign- global visitors, global businesses aren’t likely to “like” being linked to a location that supports such “hunting”.

          • Gayle Donahue

            Also, I find it hard to believe that the Native American population in Alaska or, the non-hunting visitors, are pleased with this legislation. I just looked at the projected revenue sources for 2017 & it shows a total that is slightly up over 2016 – but, not close to some of the past 10 years. However, they cannot make up the lost hundreds of millions from petroleum on the sickness of trophy hunters. The supporters of this bill actually are selling it as states’ rights to determine the methods of wildlife husbandry and the effect of the bear & wolf population on moose, elk & other food animals. Same argument (+ petrol production) some folks are using for Bears Ears and other lands set aside for Federal protection. I just hope we don’t see some hunter go after Otis as he relaxes in the shade. That is why I want to hear from the rangers – can the hunters go after bears & wolves in just any area?

          • Deborah-TX (2014)

            States rights in Texas is being used to mean no local control, everything is run out of Austin which is “free” to make deals with corporate interests. This is presented as “better” than having the federal govt. exercise control over anything. The reality is that just like it was back when TR was president, this is really about private business wanting to make a buck and has nothing to do with states rights vs. federal, it’s all about how much cheaper it is to buy state officials instead of federal. I’ve been having fun recently pointing out how few “property rights” Texas landowners have thanks to decades conservative values by both parties.

          • Gayle Donahue

            Ahhh texas politics! I so miss Ann Richards and now Gov GoodHair is in charge of our nukes! He pronounced that carbon dioxide has very little to do with climate change – it is the oceans änd “other stuff”

          • Gayle Donahue

            Deborah – scroll up and see Mike’s response to my original question. I do feel better as he explained that it is not as bad as it reads in the bill. However, there will be some crazies with loaded guns!

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      I don’t know if there will be any immediate changes in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges this year. However, the info on the National Wildlife Refuge Association website suggests there won’t be immediate changes.

      The quote below is from http://refugeassociation.org/2017/03/faqs-the-repeal-of-the-alaska-national-wildlife-refuge-rule/

      “Q. What does the overturning of this rule ultimately mean for refuges in Alaska?
      A. It means that the Service will have to spend more and more time and money to fight the state’s efforts to impose Intensive Predator Management on refuges throughout Alaska. Instead of being able to point to a rule for all refuges in Alaska, they will have to fight the state on a case-by-case basis as they have done successfully for over twenty years. The cost to American taxpayers is that staff time and taxpayer dollars will be used to fight frivolous lawsuits brought by the state of Alaska which the state will inevitably lose just as they have in the past.”

      Staff from the US Fish and Wildlife Service staff were given a gag order about this from the Dept. of Interior, so unfortunately they weren’t able to clarify the situation or answer the public’s concerns. The link above is the best, most succinct info I’ve found about the possible effects of HR69.

      • Gayle Donahue

        Mike, thank you for this info and your response!. As soon as I saw the bill show up in the House, I went to the US Fish and Wildlife website and it was virtually shut down. Your synopsis of the link you provided does give me hope that some crazies probably won’t show up on the bear cams during the salmon run. Hope you have a great summer!.

  • JeanneB

    This day was the day I found explore dot org and the bear Cam! I just had something like 2 weeks of watching until it was over. I was hooked after that though and been here ever since. Thank you Mike for all that you still do!

  • DustyAZ

    Thank you for this post and everything you share with us.

  • BearNecessities

    Thank you for your story Ranger Mike. I was not here yet, but have watched all the video’s concerning this heartbreaking moment. ((Tears rolling down my face with a big lump in my throat)) I truly believe this mama bear & cub were mourning their cub and sibling. Their emotions were obvious with their sadness and not wanting to leave the area. The love was also seen when mama took her huge arms & paws and held the cub for a long time. I witnessed a mother bears love for her dying cub, while still trying to nurture her remaining live cub. I am grateful to have witnessed a mother bears love, yet at the same time so saddened at the loss of life of this young bear cub. I have learned over the years watching cams and living in nature that nature is not always fair in the taking. I would of never experienced this moment in nature if it were not for the Explore Bear cams and I would of never learned what I know now about the bears if it were not for the informative rangers. Thank you

  • Roselind McKenzie

    Thankyou for your Story Ranger Mike i still remember this well one of those storys that have touched my heart .

  • Deborah-TX (2014)

    This was the experience I considered sharing but your elegant prose has done a far better job that I at telling this story Mike. In the helplessness of those few days a community of great heart came together across the globe

  • Lisa Grassette

    I watched this everyday and night. When the cub passed it was like losing a family member. I have ashed since then if anyone has seen 451 or her cub but no sightings. I just hope that they are safe. Thank you for everything that you and explore.org do to bring us these wonderful images

  • AnnieW

    I always try to remember that these are wild animals, but this was one of the most remarkable things to witness on the cams for me. 451 seemed to exhibit compassion, extraordinary to watch.

  • Rae Speck

    So many of us were glued to this sad real life story. We’d hoped, at least, 451’s other surviving cub would live through the winter. But we THINK 451 was seen in camp last year without other cub and in a sad state, herself. Like the human story, tragic events happen…even with helpful intervention.

  • BMDdad

    I would agree with Mike Fitz, that this was my most unforgettable cam viewing experience. My initial interest in following these bear cams in 2013, was to see and learn more about brown bears in their natural habitat. One visit to watch on cam and I was hooked. I have learned a great deal more from just observing and taking in the ranger chats than I possibly could have from any book or article about brown bears. And just when you think you’ve pretty much learned about all there is to know about the brown bears, an incident such as bear 451’s one cub falling ill and passing away happens and the learning continues. That which we all witnessed live, no words could have described adequately and with such emotion, all that we witnessed live. Seeing first hand, 451 and her other cub’s actions and reactions the entire time was something extraordinarily unique. These cams have truly opened my eyes and my understanding and knowledge to not just the brown bears, but to all the wildlife and nature of this section of Alaska. Thank you former Ranger Mike Fitz for your insight of definitely the most unforgettable moment of these bear cams.

  • Kacko

    Thanks for staying in touch and sharing your thoughts for the love of Katmai bears…..it was an amazing experience to observe and hopefully learn something…take care Mike and look forward to hearing more from you…..:):):)

  • Carol Loveless

    This was the year before I got hooked on the cams. Proof that nature is harsh and beautiful at the same time and we will never fully understand it. Nature is never mean for the sake of being mean, and when you fall in love with it, it will break your heart and bring you joy.

  • Margaret

    What an emotional experience!! I shed many tears and was so touched by the concern that mother and sibling had for this dying cub. I will never forget the last couple of days of our little “Angel” and her family. Thank you, Mike, for your account of this memorable experience.

  • naturegirl

    I was in Yosemite with limited internet and cell service and any time I could, I would check in to see how the cub was doing. While I was surrounded by beauty, my heart hurt to see a cub dying and how it impacted the cam viewers. TY for retelling the story.

  • Donna Treadway

    I watched every second of that horrible time. Mother Nature can be cruel at times but we all learn from it. Like so many, I will never forget.

    • brugs

      So did I. It was like an accident. You know you shouldn’t look but, you do anyway. Broke my heart to watch.

  • http://www.maddenenterprises.net/ Maddog

    The saddest times often make for long lasting memories, and i will always remember that cub, but my fondest memories are all the great Bear events that made me laugh, Insert picture of Bead nose get hip checked off the falls and into the Jacuzzi by Grazer, or Lefty’s famous belly flops and of course the Queens long naps, and just plain ol 3 fat bears walking down the road like the Pretty Women they are…. I love my bears!

  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/1897654693792487/ Linda Jett_Joanie_IRL_Joanie

    Like you Mike, I was and still am moved by what I witnessed via the web cam as our “Lil Angel” and her family went through this extremely heartbreaking incident.

    I have had as my avatar another snap shot of 451 and her cubs from the same day as yours.

    I remember writing a couple of things that were in my heart that day.

    QUOTES FROM THE DAY SHE DIED:

    I wonder if we can get the KNP&P bosses to Officially recognize the spot where “Angel” died as “Angel’s Corner”?

    I know that I can never think of it as anything but “Angel’s Corner.”

    I saw a Bear, a wild animal (in the wild), a species one thought not to have any type of emotions, as we humans think of emotions because…. well dang it because they are not human…….

    But, I saw a mother staying by her child’s bedside as she lay dieing. I saw a mother who could do nothing to help her child or ease her passing in any way. I saw a mother grieving for her child. I saw a mother trying to take care that her surviving cub got nourishment. I saw a mother being a mother. I saw a mother wiping the tears from her eyes as she mourns for her child, whom she’d left to tend to her surviving child’s needs, only to return and find her little girl gone. I saw a mother being a mother with emotions that in all honesty can really any truly be appreciated by another mother who has lost a child.
    I saw that all mothers feel the same emotions no matter the species. I saw a mother just like me.

    QUOTES BY OTHER Citizen Scientists”

    Posted by: diducthat

    Who would think a little bear
    Could link up hearts from everywhere
    And form a giant human chain
    To stand the watch, endure the pain – –
    Because, ’tis our life, too, you see,
    Our fate, the bear’s – will one day be
    And stumbling on the paths we roam
    We’ll want someone to walk us home…
    So now we watch Alaska skies
    Majestic mountains, pale moonrise
    Twinkle, twinkle, small cub-star – –
    We know exactly who you are…

    Posted by: tom/philly

    Mama and sibling
    Together by my side
    And all the humans viewing
    Many whom have cried
    Though I don’t know your names
    It’s plain for all to see
    I can sure feel the love
    Of you watching over me

    I believe the snap shot below I took shortly before Mom and sibling left our Lil Angel and never returned (as far as we could see before Rangers returned to retrieve her body and the cams went down.)

    To me, it looked as if Mom was kissing her baby one last time. Sad, very sad, but also very poignant.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b080b12c706aaa6010a248d191457b5387fa86ff77a36edd82252693fd8f0583.png

  • Mojave

    Some people say animals have no emotions and feel no emotional pain, baloney, this proves them wrong. This mother was truly hurting, mourning her cub. The video really tears at my heart.

  • ElizDean

    Thank you for sharing this. I too found this to be remarkable with the caring shown by the mother bear and sibling and by so many people watching. Could you provide more information on how people can donate to Brown Bear research at Brooks River or a link to the fund?

  • Lisa Mercil

    Hi thanks for sharing this story. Only found this site late last summer. One of the best things to happen to me. I say the bears saved me. Was going thru a difficult time last yr and I came across the bear cams. Most of the time I find zen here…….along with laughter….some tears. Love all the chats and the info I read and also get from other watchers. What I love most of all are the bears, naturally. Particularly the Moms and cubs. Moms have such great love for the little ones. Am looking forward to my fav two…Velco and Mom, tho I don’t think they’ll be together. I read down some comments here………..and was sadden once more (article) then the comments on that law that was past. Heard about the awhile in the news. Was so disgusted yet I didn’t think it would affect the bears here………I was sadly mistaken. How ANYONE could harm a defenseless bear or animal, sickens me…..when all they are doing is what they do…being animals.not looking to harm anyone. Needless to say, I hope all our bears are safe from these spineless idiots. Between these two stories…..I’m crying for them. Hope I don’t hear any negative stories of any of them being harmed. Looking forward to see the silly antics of the cubs. My fav was Grazer and cubs at falls. My take on it was…………..Mom was fishing and cubs off to the side on land.(sure Mom said ‘stay put) yet they went into the water to try and reach Mom. The current was too strong and swept one down the falls.Mom looking…’oh no’ thinking I have two here still but one floated away. Then another gets swept down the falls.Mom looking hopeless and worried about the two, slightly go down river……..then swiftly takes off after them…….she ‘retrieves’ them, counting…………then looking back at the falls for the ‘little one’ who held his/hers own against the current……..;-). Then lets himself/her get taken with the current to get to his/hers family. She/he gets there and one of the sibs approaches little one……….and scolds her/him. Saying……….’look you got us in trouble.and no food either’ Love that video of them. Look forward to many more.