Fearless elk hang around disinterested grizzly bear at Willow Flats in Grand Teton

Well, here’s something you don’t see every day.

Photographer Daryl Hunter has posted a pretty perplexing video of elk and a grizzly bear behaving in a way that seems — well, you’re just going to have to watch it.

In Hunter’s video, a grizzly bear in the Willow Flats area of Grand Teton National Park strolls into frame and, understandably, a bunch of elk trot briskly in the opposite direction. But then, something really weird happens. The grizzly does not give chase, and the elk walk right back up to the bear. Then the bear appears to wander around the herd for a few minutes, all without the bear or the elk doing what you would expect.

Hunter notes that the bear, girzzly #610 in Grand Teton, had been eating elk calves from among the group for the past month, making the behavior all the more bizarre.

So take a look at the video below, or check it out on Hunter’s website or his YouTube channel, and let us know what you think. If you’re a wildlife biologist, we especially want to hear your thoughts on what’s going on.

12 thoughts on “Fearless elk hang around disinterested grizzly bear at Willow Flats in Grand Teton

  1. IMHO, the loud piano music playing confused and generally discombobulated the bear *and* the elk herd.
    ;-^)

  2. Healthy, adult elk have little need to be concerned for themselves with grizzlies, especially if they are with a herd and it’s summer (no snow to be bogged down in; elk are in good fitness.) However, elk calves are highly vulnerable and are a major source of spring food for grizzlies in this ecosystem. This herd remains highly alert and vigilant–if anything the group is telling the bear to back off–the group approaches the bear and nearly every animal remains alert (head up) until the bear begins to lose interest. All animals conserve energy if possible–if prey animals ran every time a predator was in the environment, they wouldn’t survive–prey animals become very good at reading predators’ intent. You can see the same kind of behavior between lions/cheetahs/wild dogs and gazelles/zebras, etc. in Africa. Hope this helps. – A wildlife bio in the Rockies.

    • #610 is a relatively small female, eh? Make a difference in the perceived threat?

  3. Wonderful video! My first question is are they really that close to each other, or has a tele lens compressed the view?

    Second, I’ve seen a few such encounters involving a herd of prey critters and one or two preditors, in the Lamar Valley, East Africa, and the Yukon. The assumption being the prey senses the preditor isn’t hunting, but they want to keep a close eye on it.

    In Africa the instant they sense in a lions eye that he/she is getting ready to stalk the keeping a close eye is over.

    I don’t mean for an instant to take anything away from what was and is an amazing view of wildlife!

  4. This is great video. However, I wonder about the comment “eating elk calves for the past month….” It is now June 03. That would mean the elk started calving May 02- doubtful. Bison yes, I first saw bison calves around April 20, but, elk no, for the elk more around May 20 as the start of calving.
    The elk behavior is common and can be viewed daily in northern Yellowstone as well.
    Question: Has #610′s cubs now been pushed away and is she courting with another bear?

    • Steve,

      If you click through and check the dates on YouTube, you can see that the video has a date-stamp of Jul 15, 2011 for when the file was uploaded. So I think that validates the timeline when you consider it’s from last summer, not this year. Although I don’t know exactly when he shot the video in 2011 before uploading it, Daryl is a reputable photographer and I definitely believe the comments he made when highlighting the footage on his site.

      -Ruffin Prevost, editor
      Yellowstone Gate

  5. I’m guessing,like Bob of Wyoming, that indeed the bear and elk aren’t as close as it looks. Still…a good show of what really goes out in our wild lands. I’m sure there were elk calves stashed around..so all those elk are probably displaying a diversion tactic.

  6. Elk need not fear grizzly 610. Only our children at bus stops and playing in fenced schoolyards need fear grizzlies, isn’t that the mantra throughout most of MT and WY? Or, like the guv tells us now, four deaths to grizzlies in two years means all humans are at mortal risk?

  7. The bear is not hungry and the only animals that kill when they aren’t hungry or for sport seem to be humans. Thanks for your response Christine

  8. This is an incredible video demonstrating the effectiveness of a “mother elk militia” — a group of mother elk that collectively take a stand to intimidate a predator in the elk nursery.

    I observed a smaller group of mother elk taking a stand against a bobcat in PA. It was in an elk birthing area. Our former elk biologist told me he had once observed a group of 12 cow elk doing the same thing. It’s like a group of soldiers lining up on the horizon for the charge.

    Christine was very observant — these elk are all heads-up and alert, particularly in the early part of the video. Their courage–particularly that of the lead cow– is unbelievable. These cows demonstrated extraordinary protective instinct, and presented quite a convincing case for strength in numbers.

    I think this bear took a look at the bold approaching group and surrendered. Is he rolling on his back in the grass at one point when a cow stood beside him? That’s what a dog does when he doesn’t want to fight. Even a grizzly didn’t take a chance of being hooved by this group of hormonally influenced mother elk with strong protective instincts.

    I agree that this bear did not appear in serious predator mode and perhaps he/she was not hungry, but he may have been looking for another calf and not a fight or a “battle” with the mother elk militia. (Google “mother elk militias” to read my elk column.)

    This video is an extraordinary documentary. Thanks for posting it.

    As an elk author, columnist, and elk photographer, I have spent countless hours as a field observer of the Pennsylvania elk herd for the past 14 years, as an author, elk columnist and photographer.

    I absolutely love these animals.

    Carol Mulvihill

  9. Just goes to show what two guys in a bear costume can get away with. My brother and I suit up and do this all the time — but we usually approach groups of tourists instead of elk herds You can get a lot better snacks from tourist camp sites than you can from elk herds. (Kids, don’t try this during bear-hunting season.) ;-)

  10. Louise Kane (must be from NY City or Washington DC):

    Some wolves kill when not hungry. Griz have slaughtered whole herds of sheep and multiple cattle and never ate any of it. Sorry, just not humans that kill for sport. Dogs, bears, wolves, on and on. Don’t kid yourself.