Climbing only one reason Big Bend's bears are remarkable

Baby black bear climbing in Big Bend National Park

screenshot from video taken by Stephanie Latimer

In April, a video of a black bear and her cub scaling the vertical walls of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park went viral. The video was taken by Stephanie Latimer who was kayaking the Rio Grande River in the canyon.

Watch it here:

What this video’s 2.5 million viewers didn’t see, however, was another remarkable story about these black bears.

Black bears were common in Big Bend’s Chisos Mountains were common in the early part of the 20th century, but when the area was established as a National Park in 1944, bears had virtually disappeared due to hunting and loss of habitat. They remained a rare sight until the late 1980s, when visitors began reporting their remarkable return to Big Bend.

It is suspected that a female black bear traveled from from the Sierra del Carmen mountains in Northern Mexico across miles of desert, even swimming the Rio Grande to reach the forested Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. Why the bears returned is anyone’s guess, but the park’s preserved habitat has made them residents ever since.

This story is even more surprising because it is rare for large animals to return on their own to their former range once they’ve been eradicated. Usually only human intervention can rectify human disruption.

Bears are astoundingly adaptive as they are expert climbers and swimmers, and can eat just about anything. Still, like all animals, they are not immune to human impact.

Big Bend is home to other spectacular wildlife as well. It hosts more tropical butterflies, birds, cacti and bats than any other park in the U.S. and also provides habitat for numerous species that remain threatened. Wilderness designation has been proposed for Big Bend National Park, which would help protect these living wonders.

Please join us in protecting wild lands like Big Bend so that bears and other animals can continue to thrive in their natural habitats. 

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