Three-Pawed Grizzly Bear Turns Heads, Beats Odds at Alaska’s Denali National Park

Three-pawed grizzly bear at Alaska's Denali National Park (Courtesy National Park Service)
A three-pawed grizzly bear is getting some attention at Alaska’s Denali National Park – not just for his head-turning appearance, but for his ability to survive despite his handicap. Park wildlife biologist Pat Owen tells the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that staff have nicknamed the grizzly Tripawed:

The bear doesn’t seem to have any problem getting around on three feet, and the wound appears to have healed completely since Owen first saw the bear last July.

“He showed up two weeks ago along the (Parks) highway,” Owen said. “He’s been very visible. A lot of people have seen him already.”

One of the first people to see the bear this spring said the bear ran across the Parks Highway and jumped a guardrail. “They said he looked very agile,” Owen said. “I don’t think he has any trouble getting around.”

It’s a mystery as to how the bear lost its paw. Owen says the bear looks even healthier now than he did last summer, when staff feared for his survival:

Owen contacted bear biologists around the country and world to inquire about bears with missing limbs or parts of limbs and how they fare. “I found out they’re a lot more common than you’d think,” Owen said. “Pretty much everyone said they had experience with bears missing all or parts of limbs and they get along pretty well.” […]

Last week, the bear claimed a dead caribou that park officials found along the highway near the park entrance a week earlier and dragged farther off the road.

“It took him the better part of a week but he finally showed up on that carcass,” Owen said. “He spent all last week camped out on that carcass, burying it, sleeping on it and eating on it.”

And what better sign of good health than sleeping on a caribou carcass, am I right?

In all seriousness, I’d have thought a three-legged grizzly would be a goner. But as National Wildlife Federation Senior Scientist Doug Inkley told me, “Given a chance, some animals are remarkable in their ability to survive injury.”

Did you know there’s a proposed mine that threatens the food supply of Alaskan grizzly bears? Learn more about the Pebble Mine proposal and how you can stop it.

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Published: May 17, 2012