Two Yellowstone Cubs in need of Help

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The internet furor over Cecil the Lion and his killer, Walter Palmer, has subsided a bit this week, only to be replaced by a tragic wildlife situation south of the border in Yellowstone National Park. On Friday, August 7th (one week ago), 63 year-old Montana hiker, Lance Crosby, was attacked, killed, and partially consumed by a female grizzly bear known locally as Blaze.

Yesterday, after six days of deliberation, Yellowstone officials decided to “euthanize” (aka KILL) Blaze, and send her two young cubs off to a zoo in the eastern United States, essentially doubling down on the tragedy of Crosby’s death by not only killing Blaze, but also sentencing her two cubs to a life behind bars.

As a result, a number of prominent nature photographers in Canada and the U.S. have begun an overnight online campaign calling for the cubs to be rehabilitated in the world’s only grizzly bear rehabilitation facility, the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada — the very same rehab facility that I have been working with closely since May 2013.

Following is an impassioned plea from wildlife photographer Simon Jackson (follow him on Facebook at Ghost Bear Photography), along with images provided courtesy of Sandy Sisti with Wild at Heart Images. A huge thank you to both of them for their actions in this fight.

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Simon Jackson, Ghost Bear Photography:

This morning, it was announced that both of the grizzly cubs involved in last Friday’s fatal attack in Yellowstone will be sent to the Toledo Zoo. Not a rehabilitation facility – not even a sanctuary for orphaned cubs – but a zoo.

In a tragedy that is continually being compounded by decisions that make this entire mess worse, it is confounding as to why Yellowstone refused to do their due diligence and at least explore rehabilitating and re-releasing these cubs-of-the-year into the wild.

SIGN THIS PETITION TO URGE THESE CUBS BE REHABILITATED: http://bit.ly/1h79hUb

Blaze with a young cub – Photography by Sandy Sisti, Wild at Heart Images



Yesterday morning, Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in BC offered to rehabilitate the cubs. Though there were hurdles to clear with moving the bears across the border, their track record of successfully releasing 18 grizzly cubs back into the wild spoke for itself. People of all walks of life offered to help and make the crossing possible, all it required was for Yellowstone to reach out to Angelika from Northern Lights.


Angelika waited all day for a phone call that never came.

Then Yellowstone announced the cubs would never return to the wild, but be placed in a zoo for life.

According to media reports, the cubs won’t be on “display” for at least another month, but in the meantime will be gradually introduced to humans and feeding times. This means the window to reverse the decision is closing rapidly as soon these bears might be too habituated to rehabilitate.

It’s unclear how involved the Toledo Zoo was in discussions with Yellowstone on the fate of these cubs, but it is critical they realize that they didn’t save these cubs from death. Their only act – even if their hearts are in the right place (and I’m sure they are) – has been to deprive these animals of the right to full lives as wild bears. Not to mention, they are depriving a genetically isolated population of grizzly bears two reproducing females, critical to advancing the overall health of the ecosystem.

It must be said, that if the Toledo Zoo does not rescind their offer to take these cubs and encourage Yellowstone and the National Park Service to embrace the proven track record of rehabilitation, they are complicit in this disastrous series of poor decisions. Their reputation – which is already very poor after a sloth bear they had on loan died of dehydration while under Toledo’s care – will be forever tarnished by preventing these grizzly cubs from living in the wild.

We urge you to contact the Toledo Zoo (Email: toledozooinfo@toledozoo.org and Phone: 1-419-385-5721) and ask they change their minds. We ask that you contact Yellowstone and the Secretary of the Interior (as well as your representatives) and urge them to re-think this well intended, yet awful decision.

And, of course, this issue is really just starting. The elephants in the room are the questions that linger.

Why won’t Yellowstone embrace the proven concept of rehabilitation, given their mandate to protect and enhance the grizzly population?

Simon Jackson asks, “Why won’t Yellowstone embrace the proven concept of rehabilitation?” – Photo by Sandy Sisti


Why aren’t new protocols for handling bear cubs involved in attacks being put in place?

Why haven’t new rules been drawn up to make bear spray mandatory, potentially saving the lives of people and bears?

Why was Elephant Back trail re-opened immediately, even with new grizzly sightings being reported? Has no one learned anything from this tragedy?

Ultimately, we’re not the best suited to lead this fight and are working to find the right voices who have the expertise to lead the campaign. But we will continue to do everything within our power to ask the questions, get the answers, and advocate for positive change to ensure this grizzly sow did not die in vain.

Thank you for your ongoing support. 

Simon Jackson

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Blaze with her two young cubs in 2015 – Photograph by Sandy Sisti, Wild at Heart Images

For more information and the full story behind Blaze’s death and how you can help contact officials involved in the decision-making on this, please read Simon’s blog post, Outrage in Yellowstone, here: http://bit.ly/1PacigQ

Do: Sign the petition to rehabilitate the cubs: http://bit.ly/1h79hUb

Do: Call US Senator Danes office in Bozeman 1-406-587-3446 and ask him to help get these cubs relocated into a rehabilitation center.

Do: Contact the Toledo Zoo (Email: toledozooinfo@toledozoo.org and Phone: 1-419-385-5721) and ask CEO and Executive Director Jeff Sailer and the Board of Directors to change their minds.

Read: Article from Animal Justice: http://animaljustice.ca/media-releases/animal-justice-calls-for-release-of-grizzly-cubs-to-rehab-not-zoo/

Read: Article from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201508/yellowstone-kills-blaze-bear-who-attacked-trail-hiker

Photos: Sandy Sisti – Wild at Heart Images-Wildlife and Nature Photography

One Day in Yellowstone

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Yellowstone National Park.  It is the holy grail of wildlife photography in North America. Our Serengeti, if you will.

And so it should come as no surprise to all of you to know that I have been avoiding Yellowstone like the plague for the past twenty years.

Uh, say WHAT?!?

That’s right, for the past twenty years, John E. Marriott has been avoiding the single best place in North America to take wildlife pictures.  Sounds like a brilliant career move, right?  Why bother going somewhere that has bison grazing like cattle, wild grizzlies around every corner, and a plethora of other drool-worthy beasts ranging from badgers to beavers to black bears?

The truth is, I’m not that big on crowds, and Yellowstone has them in spades.  That’s not to say you can’t get off the trails and get away from it all, because you can, it’s just that there are always gobs of people driving and wandering about in Yellowstone.  And a lot of them are wildlife photographers.  Couple that with the fact that I only shoot in groups on my photo tours and workshops and you begin to get an inkling for why I favour Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan over Yellowstone much of the time.

The other key factor in my Yellowstone-avoidance plan over the past two decades lies in the direction that I decided to take my career in when I started off.  I figured there were heaps of people photographing Africa and Yellowstone and Antarctica, but not that many concentrating solely on Canada.  So that was the niche I decided to exploit, photographing from Baffin Island to Banff, from coast to coast to coast across the country.

However, every once in a while, I sneak off to Yellowstone without telling anyone (my last trip there was a 7-day backpack in 2003) and grab a few pics for the family albums.

Ten days ago, my wife came into my office and told me she had to take the rest of her 2012 vacation days before the end of January.  That left us with six days to ‘go somewhere’, so by the next day the car was loaded and we were US-bound!  Since it was supposed to be a ‘vacation’ and not a John-gets-to-shoot-from-dawn-to-dusk-every-day sorta vacation, we made a compromise.  The first few days would be spent exploring a place we’d both always wanted to go, Jackson Hole in Wyoming (very high marks from both of us, we loved it!), while the last day and a bit would be spent photographing in Yellowstone.

And so, without further adieu, I present to you images from our ‘One Day in Yellowstone’ on January 28th, 2013.

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Bison bulls on the Blacktail Plateau, Yellowstone National Park

Bison are everywhere in Yellowstone, particularly in the winter when they’re concentrated in the nothern part of the park.  It’s basically impossible to drive through without scoring some great images of bison doing something or other — even just laying there.

Two younger bison bulls get rowdy and fight in the Lamar Valley

Snow-draped bison bull in Yellowstone National Park

Not to be messed with!

Other ungulates like deer, elk, and pronghorn are not quite as plentiful as bison are, but they’re still easy to find, particularly near the northwest entrance by Gardiner.

A pronghorn antelope doe

But the real winter treasure to be found in Yellowstone is their wild wolves, which have flourished since being relocated from Canada in 1994.  Unfortunately, this winter both Wyoming and Montana had open seasons on wolves and Yellowstone’s wolves were decimated, particularly the packs that most tourists get to observe in the Lamar Valley and in the northern reaches of the parks.

We spent the night before our ‘One Day in Yellowstone’ reading all about the heart-wrenching stories of well-known wolves that had been mowed down along the park’s borders this winter by hunters that seemed to specifically target park wolves.

The reports left me feeling mad above all else and really made me appreciate the fact that many of the wolves I photograph in the Canadian Rockies do not stray outside of our park boundaries and are thus not exposed to the dangers of hunting and trapping. However, the packs that I photograph in Yoho and Kootenay national parks in B.C. face the exact same dangers as these Yellowstone wolves now do. Because our national parks do not have buffer zones around them protecting the wildlife from hunters and trappers, much of our trans-boundary wildlife is in constant flux.  For instance, trappers have removed 5 wolves already (almost an entire pack) from Banff’s northeast edge this winter (stay tuned for a lot more news about wolves in the coming weeks and about how you can help with putting an end to ‘cross-border shopping’, where wolf and bear hunters can shoot unsuspecting wildlife right on our parks’ boundaries).

In the days leading up to our visit, I’d noticed online that there were still a few packs of wolves being seen in Yellowstone almost daily, so we put the bad news aside and hoped for the best.

An hour into the park, we found our first wolves.  Tiny, distant black specks on a far-off ridge.  Worse yet, there were hundreds of people lining the road hoping to catch a glimpse or a photograph of them!

We left immediately and were rewarded a few hours later with a spectacular sighting of a pack that’s not as commonly seen in the park, the Blacktail wolf family, which currently has three gray wolves, including two with radio collars.

Several cars got to see one of the collared alphas as she howled to the other two that had disappeared across the road, and then, about twenty minutes later, with a bit of detective sleuth work, my wife and I were able to find the one uncollared member of the family, who proceeded to really put on a show for us as it walked along the road and dipped in and out of the sage flats.

Gray wolf from the Blacktail wolf family

A beautiful gray wolf from the Blacktail wolf pack pauses in the sage

The same gray wolf eyes me curiously

It was a remarkable experience getting to be so close to a Yellowstone wolf and feeling the same thrills I get when I’m lucky enough to view and photograph wild wolves here in the Canadian Rockies.  And it seemed that much ‘cooler’ knowing that these wolves are descendants of the same Jasper wolves that I’ll be trying to find this week on my Jasper wildlife photography workshop.

So while it was just ‘One Day in Yellowstone’, it was really ‘One GREAT Day in Yellowstone’.

Happy shooting everyone and stay tuned to my Facebook page for Jasper updates this week!

John