It turns out that the video of black bears chasing tourists in Yellowstone National Park is less a case of a protective mother and her cubs and more a case of a frightened bear trying to get away from gawking tourists who trapped them.

National Geographic contacted an expert to explain:

[I]t started with what’s called a “bear jam,” the park’s term for when visitors stop their cars to gawk at a bear—in this case, a family of bears grazing on a hillside near a bridge.

Suddenly the bears, including a mom and her yearling cubs, took a wrong turn and ended up on the bridge along with the curious human onlookers. Their instinct was to get away from the people as quickly as possible, but the people got frightened and blocked her, says Kerry Gunther, head of bear management at Yellowstone.

“It’s obvious she gets a little nervous as she’s trying to get across the bridge,” says Gunther, who was not present but watched the video and spoke to a park colleague who observed the incident.

“The bear was not after people—it could have easily caught anyone it wanted,” he says, adding that the video shows the bears trying to get around the people, but being thwarted because the humans kept moving.

“Pretty much all the events [in the video] were influenced by human behavior.”

This is similar to the NPR story from 2007 about how tourists think buffalo are cute and friendly. And there’s a lovely story about a woman putting their child on a buffalo’s back. Don’t bother wild animals, people.

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Read the rest of National Geographic’s piece, and Gunther’s advice on what you should do if you see a bear here.


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.