Alex Wypyszinski, a retired professor and amateur photographer, shot this amazing series of photos of a grizzly bear chasing down an injured bison when he stopped to take photos of geysers in Yellowstone National Park in May. He works in the contract post office at Old Faithful in the park and said the photos were simply a case of being in the right place at the right time and that he usually prefers to shoot still-life and landscapes.
May and early June are probably the best time to get grizzly bear shots at Yellowstone. They’re coming out of hibernation and feeding down in the lower areas where there’s food. The entire plateaus are still snowed in, so you get to see quite a few of them in May, which is my favorite month at Yellowstone, because it’s before the tourists arrive.
The retired professor said he’s surprised at all the attention his six-month-old photos have received recently after a local TV station did a story on them, which in turn drew coverage from a local newspaper. The story snowballed after that and the photos went viral on the web this week.
I always tell everyone, you have to get up early. If you want good photos, watch the sun come up in Yellowstone. I like to take pictures of flowers more than animals so I’m always looking for that dynamic light. That happens right in that area. That whole meadow basin runs right down into the Firehole River and it runs east-west so the sun comes up over the central plateau and it’s a neat place to be early in the morning at any time of the year. On this one, I was especially lucky.
Wypyszinski who has seen and photographed plenty of bears in Yellowstone over the years. “At first I had a hard time figuring out what they were. I figured it was a couple of moose, possibly. Pretty quickly it became apparent what it was, though it took a while for it to register with that animal as badly injured as it was,” he says.
As the bison drew closer with the grizzly bear right on his tail, Wypyszinski noticed large patches of fur missing from the buffalo’s front legs. “At first…I figured that the bear had already gotten started on him, but it became apparent from the head that it had been badly burned and that was confirmed when I showed the pictures to some interpretive rangers at the Yellowstone Old Faithful Visitor Center,” Wypyszinski says. “That’s the only thing that could have done that much damage to the animal. It probably fell into a pool.” The area has a high level of thermal activity with many boiling pools and steaming geysers.
Wypyszinski says he began to get nervous and considered moving to the roof of his SUV as the animals closed the quarter-mile distance between them. “But they were running so fast, as they went by me, I jumped back into the car. They had to have been going 25 miles an hour; it was astounding how fast they were going. I could have touched both of them [when they passed].”
Wypyszinski says he was told the injured bison was seen the next day and that it was later put down by park rangers because of the extent of its injuries, a common occurrence as many animals are injured by vehicles in Yellowstone National Park. “There are a lot of animals injured by automobiles in the park and there are some designated areas where they take the dead so they can be scavenged. It’s not like they put it in a landfill… They put them in the backcountry and let the ravens and the magpies and the other bears, I suppose, have first dibs.”