Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center 1: Grizzlies

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The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, in West Yellowstone, Montana, is a not-for-profit wildlife park and educational. As the title of the place suggests, the concentration is on wolves and grizzlies, but there are also some birds of prey, usually (at least according to the website) kept off-site. Rumors on the internet that this is a petting zoo are entirely unfounded. The bears domiciled at this facility all were born in the wild. All were either “problem” bears slated for euthanization or cubs of problem bears.

What the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center provides is not merely the opportunity to see grizzlies and wolves, but to view them safely. In Yellowstone National Park, you are not supposed to be less than 100 yards from grizzlies — nor would you want to be much closer. Two hikers were killed by a “problem” grizzly in 2011 because they got too close. (The offspring of the bear connected to these two fatalities now live at the center.)

The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center allows one to get close enough to the animals to photograph them. You will need at least a 200mm lens on an APS-C camera. The exhibit for the bears is a large stretch of ground that rises up from the viewing area. In a large section of this viewing area, there’s no fence in the way, must a moat and a series of smaller fences. This allows a clear access to the critters. The bears are generally released in pairs to search for food, which is hidden under the rocks. The best time for photographing the bears is when they are first released for the food searching game. When you buy your ticket for entry ($10, good for two days), they give a schedule of release times for the various bears.

The bears are quite intent on finding their grub. They will lift up rocks and stick their snouts into various holes to get at the tasty snacks scattered around their play area:

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After the hard work of searching for food, some of the grizzlies like to cool off in the pond:

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Just because you’re photographing wild animals in a zoo-like environment doesn’t mean the pictures can’t look “real.” These are wild animals, after all, and they might as well look the part. With a long enough lens, you can sometimes get close enough so you don’t have to worry about any distracting zoo-like backgrounds:

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But more often than not, the distracting backgrounds appear:

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No problem: in Photoshop, they can be either blurred away or replaced with something better:

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In my next post I will share images from an epic battle between two of the bears in the Discovery Center.