King

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        We met King on our first camping trip to Katmai this summer.  We had taken a trail from camp through the backside of the meadows and spotted off in the distance a group of five or six bears congregated together.  The bright green grass of the meadows was snaked with deep, yet narrow, river channels opening up to the larger rivers closer to the beach.  King was stomping after a female, following her like a stalker, and all the other bears were scattering in his wake.  Seeing his massive size, the smaller and sub-adult males went running for the hills!  King, however, didnít seem interested in anybody but the gorgeous, fluffy caramel colored female he was doggedly pursuing.  Ignoring his presence and going about her business, she ambled through the sedge grass calmly.  She walked, paused to yank up some grass and chew, then walked some more.  King was following her the whole way, five to ten steps behind her.  Since they were walking in our direction, we sat down at the edge of the sedge meadow and waited for them to walk closer. 

 

 

        As King approached, we noticed that not only was he huge, but he had an unusual face and a calm, confident energy about him.  His calm presence set us at ease, and he didnít seem either intimidated or very interested in our presence.  King had almond shaped eyes that slanted upwards at about a 45 degree angle, giving him a slightly squinty eyed appearance.  His forehead was riddled with a group of scars that all together loosely formed a triangular shape above and between his eyes that is absent of fur.  His right ear hung noticeably lower than the left one.  His shoulders were broad and immense, and looking at him head on he was a formidable presence.  His front legs, thick as redwoods, supported an immense spine that curved up to reveal his massive height and muscular hump.  With his head stooped low to the grass he gazed up, unconcerned, in our direction. 

 

 

King was diligently, but slowly, following several paces behind the female.  She ended up deciding to graze right in front of where we were sitting, and King walked off to the side, and sat down to stare at her and wait.  While the female voraciously wolfed down sedge grass, King watched over her glancing around the meadow for any other bears.  We would notice throughout the week of watching King, and other mating couples, that the males seemed to hardly ever eat while following a female.  King had taken a few half hearted nibbles of grass before sitting down, but he kind of looked like he was just pretending to eat Ėnibbling on a few blades of grass to create more of a nonchalant appearance. 

We wondered, how do the males maintain their huge size and pounds of fat if they hardly eat during mating season Ė which can last up to two months?  Seeing how much less sedge grass the males appeared to eat, it really gave us an appreciation for how much extra work the females do to build and maintain their weight, which is drained every year to nurse cubs.  While males can pack on the pounds, and cease to lose all of them over the winter, the females nurse in the den and thus burn more calories and fat reserves over the winter.  Itís a good example of the strength and work required for female bears to stay alive and reproduce.

 

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© 2008 Jessica Teel