In an effort to get drivers to slow down in Yosemite National Park, a park ranger recounted a heartbreaking story in a now-viral Facebook post of finding a dead baby bear after the cub had been hit by a speeding vehicle.
The story, written by an unidentified park ranger, was shared last Friday on Yosemite’s Facebook page.
“We get this call a lot,” the post begins. “Too much, to be honest. ‘Bear hit by vehicle, dead on the side of the road.’ Sadly, it’s become routine.”
The ranger received the call around around 4 p.m., but the incident happened about four hours earlier and at a location about an hour away. It was after 5 p.m. by the time the ranger arrived at the scene, equipment in tow.
“My job here is easy, really: find the bear, move its body far away from the road to prevent any other animals from getting hit while scavenging on it, fill out a report, and collect samples and measurements for research,” the post states.
Once submitted, the data will add yet another case to the number of bears fatally hit by vehicles in the national park this year — an effort that officials hope can be used to help prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
But while looking for this particular bear, the park ranger starts to reflects on the number of similar calls that prompted a response in years past.
“I try to remember how many times I’ve done this now and, truthfully, I don’t know,” the post reads. “This is not what any of us signs up for, but it’s a part of the job nonetheless.”
Soon after, the ranger finds a car part, which helps leads to the discovery of a dead bear cub down an embankment near the side of the road.
“Its tiny light brown body laying just feet from me and the road, nearly invisible to every passerby. It’s a new cub—couldn’t be much more than six months old, now balled up and lifeless under a small pine tree,” the park ranger wrote. “For a moment I lose track of time as I stand there staring at its tiny body, but then the sound of more cars whizzing by reminds me of my place and my role.”
The ranger picks up the cub’s body, which weighs at most 25 pounds, and starts carrying the small animal into the woods and toward a grassy area away from the road. A semi-ring of down logs surrounds the peaceful spot.
“The least I can do is find it a nice place to be laid,” the ranger explains. “I lay it down in the grass protected by one of the nearby logs and sit back on the log opposite of it, slightly relieved that it looks far more in place now than when I found it earlier.”
Soon after, the park ranger discovers the cub is female and immediately begins contemplating what her life would have been like had she lived. Possibly, the ranger recalls thinking, she would’ve given birth to her own cubs someday.
Suddenly, the ranger heard the crack of a stick breaking and looked up to see an adult bear staring back.
“Surprised, I stand up quickly and the bear runs off into the brush but stops not far off and looks back at me. Acting on instinct, I pick up a stick and smash it over a tree to scare the bear further away. I stand there quietly, listening as I hear the bear’s footsteps tapper away. A few silent minutes pass, and I settle back into my task,” the post says.
At first, the ranger thought it was just a “timely coincidence,” and that perhaps the bear was there to scavenge or that the location could have been a common crossing area. But then, “a deep toned but soft sounding grunt” pierces the air, shattering the quiet.
“I immediately know what it is,” the ranger said. “It’s a vocalization, the kind sows (female bears) make to call to their cubs.”
The park ranger turned to find the same bear from moments earlier and realized she is the cub’s mother.
“I can feel the callousness drain from my body. This bear is the mom, and she never left her cub,” the ranger wrote.” My heart sinks. It’s been nearly six hours and she still hasn’t given up on her cub. I can just imagine how many times she darted back and forth on that road in attempts to wake it.”
The post continues, “Now here I am, standing between a grieving mother and her child. I feel like a monster. I get up, quickly pack my bag, and get out of there. It is time to go even though my task is not done.”
Before leaving, the ranger set up a remote camera and snapped a photo of the grief-stricken mama bear and her cub. The picture accompanied the post on Yosemite’s Facebook page.
In explaining the decision to take the photo, the ranger noted that the national park reports the number of bear’s hit by vehicles there annually, but that the figures don’t tell the full story.
“I want people to see what I saw: the sad reality behind each of these numbers,” the ranger said.
The post concludes with a plea for all motorists driving through Yosemite to observe the posted speed limit, be alert and look out for wildlife while behind the wheel.
As of Monday morning, the post had been shared more than 53,000 times, and elicited more than 66,000 reactions and nearly 5,000 comments.
Since 2005, more than 400 bears have been struck by vehicles in Yosemite, according to Keep Bears Wild, a project which tracks the figure and is a collaborative effort between Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Conservancy and Wharton Media.
The most in a single year was back in 2015, when nearly 40 bear-vehicle collisions were reported in the national park. Around 15 were reported last year, the tracker showed.
Yosemite issued a similar reminder for drivers to stop speeding through the park last July, after vehicles struck four bears — two fatally — over a three-week period.
To further spread the message, the park has road signs that read “Speeding Kills Bears” placed in areas where bears have been struck by cars in recent years.