Driving along the Stewart Cassiar Highway between Stewart and Meziadin Junction in northern British Columbia, Cari McGillivray came across two enraged grizzlies locked in combat. McGillivray was able to capture the altercation on camera as the bears faced one another on hind legs, battering and biting, until the smaller of the two bears scampered off, passing right by McGillivray.
The video displays the raw strength and ferocity of an adult grizzly, but does little to illuminate the cause of the fight. Kim Titchener, a bear expert who runs training sessions on bear and human interactions through Bear Safety & More, says it could have been a number of reasons.
“One is during the breeding season,” she says. “Generally, you’ll see males fighting over females.” But Titchener rules this out as most bears breed in the spring. “Territory is another one, where bears are in one another’s areas. They don’t like the fact that there’s that male there, and they want to push them out.” Though Titchener says this is unlikely as well in this case, considering that the fight took place on a highway.
“I think the most likely reason why we saw this altercation with these two bears is likely that there was a food source. Probably something like a deer got hit on the highway,” she says. A bear’s sense of smell is 2,000 times stronger than a human’s, and it’s probable that both bears could smell the carcass from kilometres away.
The real clue that makes Titchener think the fight was over a food source is the wolf, barely visible in the background, standing on the highway. “The fact that the wolf came out onto the road and was looking around, perhaps that wolf also smelled the carcass and came out thinking, Oh, is there something to eat here? And then, of course, Oh, I’m way too early to the show. These two are fighting over it. I’m probably going to have to come back later and go for it when those bears are done.”
Grizzly bears are extremely protective over food sources and will often fight other bears for carcasses and prime spots along fishing rivers. They’ve also been known to attack and even kill humans who happen to stumble upon them while they’re feeding.
While it is rare to run into a grizzly (let alone two of them duking it out on the highway), to avoid entangling yourself, Titchener advises: “I would pull over, put your hazards on, and call 911.” The fight would likely be over before officers showed up—not that there would be much they could do beyond blocking off the road—but pulling over and putting on your hazard lights shows other drivers that there’s something there.
If it’s just one bear along the side of the road, “I would say slow down and keep going, because we don’t want to create bear-jams,” Titchener says. “But in this case, these animals are going to get hit if someone doesn’t know they’re there.”