Although the geysers and hydrothermal features are the biggest draw at Yellowstone National Park, its wildlife is another reason America's first national park has become one of the most popular of our
national parks. The park's grizzly bears have fascinated visitors since the park opened. Here are 5 facts about those grizzly bears you may not know.
1. The Grizzly Bear Show
For many years, visitors to Yellowstone were almost certain to see a grizzly bear. In 1928, Yellowstone commenced bear feeding shows. In several locations throughout the park, park officials erected grandstands around a central platform. At designated times, park employees dumped garbage from the park hotels onto the platforms. Almost on cue, grizzlies would emerge from the woods and scavenge through the garbage, giving the tourists a close-up view of the park’s largest predator. These shows ended in the 1940s.
2. A Recovery Success Story
In the late-1800s and early-1900s, grizzly bears across the American West were hunted. In many places, they were hunted to extinction. Although they survived in Yellowstone, they were placed on the Endangered Species List. In 2017, after many year of recovery, grizzly bears were taken off of the Endangered Species List in Yellowstone. Today, approximately 150 grizzly bears make at least part of Yellowstone their home, and 700 are spread in areas around the park.
3. Pass the Veggies
Although many think of grizzly bears as carnivores, their diet usually consists of at least 50% plants. In Yellowstone, the spring months are the time when grizzly bears primarily consume meat; during the summer and fall, the bears eat meat when they can, but also consume significant amounts of grass, sedges, flowers, and nuts from the whitebark pine.
4. Bear Safe
Since 1980, grizzly bears have injured a grand total of two people in the developed areas of Yellowstone. While grizzlies still injure approximately one person per year in the back country of the park, it is extremely unlikely that a typical visitor to the park will find himself or herself on the wrong end of a grizzly bear. However, grizzly bears are still very dangerous, and park visitors are required to keep a distance of 100 yards from bears in the park.
5. Hungry Bears
As noted above, the park stopped its grizzly bear shows in the 1940s. However, there are still parts of the park where the bears are fed. Although it is not well-publicized, for fear of people being injured, Yellowstone still has to dispose of animal carcasses (such as those of animals that have been killed along the park’s roads). Thus, the park maintains several carcass dumping sites in the backcountry, where carcasses can be taken and dumped. These sites are typically down service roads and all of them are closed to the public. People who stumble upon them accidentally are warned to immediately leave the area, lest they become carcasses themselves.
Want to learn more about Yellowstone National Park?
Check out 101 Travel Bits: Yellowstone National Park.