A Buffalo, Wolf, Grizzly and Black Bear
Copyright 2020 by Lisa Rehfuss
Inclement weather prevented Martha and me from experiencing Yellowstone on foot. Granted, we weren’t going to melt in the rain, yet at our age there’s something unappealing about hiking a muddy path. Perhaps it’s because these days we spend more money on footwear.
Because I was only visiting for a few days, we decided instead to drive through the park.
As soon as we passed the entrance, we saw a crowd gathered on the side of the road. Upon closer inspection it appeared they were watching a lone buffalo. Intrigued, we got out of the car and walked over to see what all the hubbub was about.
I asked a man whose camera had a lens longer than my arm what was going on. He explained that about fifty people had been tracking this scene for three days, even setting up tents and appointing watch commanders so the drama could be covered 24/7. When I asked, ‘what scene’, he reverently pointed to a strand of trees and there, under the canopy, sat a wolf.
One lone wolf.
One lone buffalo.
The man explained that the buffalo must be sick and sensing this, the wolf was waiting until it was in a more weakened state to take it down. Even a pack of wolves think twice before going after an adult buffalo. One kick, and they could lose a limb or their life.
Another minute and I was ready to get back in the car. Not because of the rain, but because the whole scene was disturbing. People with high-powered, zoom cameras stood a mere ten feet from a sick buffalo who had people on one side and a wolf waiting under a tree on the other side.
Shouldn’t we be afforded some privacy, particularly in our weak moments?
Martha and I continued up the road and about two miles in, saw another group gathered. This time there were about 10 people with cameras and binoculars and an excitement that seemed to shimmer off their bodies. We stopped to see what this little group had found.
In the distance, we could make out something large, but didn’t have a clear view.
A man standing next to Martha and me offered his camera which was outfitted with a zoom lens. Looking through the camera eye, I saw three grizzly bears behind a skinny downed tree. They were obviously ripping, stripping and feasting on what I was told used to be a deer. Now it was lunch. I couldn’t see the deer due to the tree trunk, but it was clear what was going on. Then the man tapped me on the shoulder and told me to point the camera about twenty feet from the grizzlies. There sat a pack of wolves, waiting.
According to the man, he’d watch the wolves take down the deer and five minutes after doing so, the grizzlies showed up. There was a disagreement with a lot of swatting of the air and growling and howling, but eventually even this pack of five wolves knew better than to get into it with thieving grizzlies.
I handed the man’s camera back to him and nodded to Martha that I was ready to go. I’m not squeamish about watching grizzlies eat, or wolves take down a deer and I’m a regular surveyor of National Geographic specials, even have a subscription to their magazine. At this juncture, it was simply a matter of not being able to see without the aid of binoculars or a zoom lens and knowing I couldn’t very well hold onto the kind gentleman’s camera for an extended period of time.
Why, it wouldn’t be fair to him as he was the one with the equipment. I do have some decorum.
Too, I had a soft spot for the wolves who did all the hard work and then were forced to wait their turn. Didn’t seem fair, but I’m sure the deer could teach all of us a lesson on what is and what is not fair.
Further down the road we stopped to take a paved U-shaped path around geysers. We didn’t realize until we looped around to the other side that there was a gang of buffalo. Having been to Yellowstone on hikes and adventures multiple times, Martha advised that the buffalo gang were far enough away and wouldn’t bother us.
Next thing I know I’m hoofing it down the path, hoping not to slide in a puddle on the way back to the car. A ticked off buffalo loped behind me as Martha laughed as she went back the way we came, through non-buffalo territory. Martha honestly didn’t think the buffalo wouldn’t charge and when one did it was with a half-hearted attempt. Of course, I didn’t see it as a half-hearted attempt.
Fast forward four days after arriving back home and I see televised a short segment about the buffalo on one of the morning shows. They showed a ten second clip of the wolf waiting on the ill buffalo and explained that after five days it gave up the hunt.
Since there was no guarantee of a slaughter, most of the human followers went home, except one man who stayed with the buffalo. He said he thought the wolf would return. Instead, a black bear showed up and took a bite out of the buffalo’s backside. Now a larger group of watchers tracked the buffalo and bear. At times the animals would be waiting, watching each other. At times, there was a full out sprint as the bear chased the buffalo.
I don’t know the outcome, but we can probably all guess.
What I really am perplexed by is how I’m fascinated watching nature shows, but when it gets close up and personal? It doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s because there’s an assumption a camera capturing a scene in the wild is unobtrusive.
Having a scene unfold in front of me, with an audience determined to catch every second on film or through the eye of a binocular, seems a bit sadder. A bit more theatrical. A bit more inhuman.
Maybe I should just remind myself that after all, we are all animals.