Photographer bears witnesses to battle of Banff’s two biggest grizzlies

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Marriott knows The Boss well. He’s seen him at least every couple years over his nearly 30-year career as a wildlife photographer. But he’d never seen him like this.

“He takes a big swipe at Split Lip and Split Lip just ducked out of the way and goes racing through the little meadow onto the Bow Valley Parkway,” he said. “We quickly started up the vehicle and drove over and they’re running down about three kilometres, we measured it out afterwards.”

Marriott said the experience was one he’ll never forget.

“It was quite a remarkable encounter to see the two biggest, baddest, toughest grizzlies,” he said. “It was basically a heavyweight battle in grizzly bear terms.”

Grizzly bears will typically do everything they can to avoid a physical altercation because fights between them often end in death for both bears.

“It’s probably the closest anybody’s seen the two of them getting, but we can surmise they’ve encountered each other many times before.”

A large grizzly bear given the name The Boss chases the grizzly named Split Lip near Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, west of Calgary. John E. Marriott photo

Jon Stuart-Smith, wildlife management specialist for Parks Canada, agrees the interaction Marriott saw was special.

“This kind of encounter is fairly unusual to witness,” he said. “It probably does happen in nature more than we’re able to see, but it’s unique to witness an event like John did.”

Stuart-Smith said the bears are about the same age, between 18 and 21 years old, roughly the same size and were part of a Parks Canada monitoring program that ended in 2017.

“Those types of encounters are how bears determine their social hierarchy,” he said. “Often the physical interactions like that are less common whereas the dominance is played out in just simply interacting with each other through stances and vocalization prior to any physical contact between the two animals.”

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