Thursday, April 30, 2009

I wish my best friend were as cool as Brutus:

Expedition Grizzly
premiering Sunday, May 3rd at 9 PM ET/PT

Did you know that a full grown grizzly is over 8 feet tall when it stands on its hind legs and can easily move a one ton boulder with its powerful arm muscles?

This Sunday is your chance to learn more about this fascinating animal. National Geographic Channel is premiering an up-close and in-depth look into the world of grizzly bears unlike any I've ever seen.

The special is hosted by biologist and bear expert Casey Anderson, who takes us along to look at what he does every year while tracking and monitoring the grizzly population in the Yellowstone area. You're right beside him watching grizzlies forage for food in the late snows, and get to see the unique moth-eating behavior (featured on Planet Earth) that makes Yellowstone's grizzly population so unique.

As if following the hunky Casey as he tracks the wild bears in Yellowstone National Park isn't incredible enough, Expedition Grizzly also introduces us to Casey's adorable, if a bit intimidating, best friend: the 800 lb, 6 year old Grizzly Bear, Brutus.

When I say "best friend," I really mean best friend - Casey raised Brutus from birth, and the two are unbelievably close (see for yourself). Brutus was even Casey's best man at his wedding! Their special relationship allows us to see just how incredible these immense beasts really are. Brutus shows off the amazing physiology of grizzlies in a way that only he can. No CGI remakes here - we get to watch Brutus himself stand on his hind legs to reveal his size, dig through the ground to find food, and even brush aside a 1 ton boulder for a tasty snack.

And all the while we get to learn about the unique population of grizzlies that lives currently in the US' first National Park. These grizzlies now number around 550, but they haven't always been that plentiful. By 1975, bears whose numbers had once been in the thousands throughout the Rocky Mountains had dwindled to less than 150 in the Yellowstone area, prompting their placement on the Endangered Species List. Extensive conservation efforts since then have allowed the populations to recover somewhat, enough to bump up the Yellowstone population to "threatened" from "endangered" in 2007.

Unfortunately, the US grizzlies have a lot of challenges ahead of them. Despite growth in their populations since the 1970s, the American grizzly is still at risk of local extinction in almost all of its habitats. That's because they live in such small, isolated populations completely surrounded by people. Without the ability to move around in search of food and interbreed with other grizzly populations, it's very possible that the grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park may not be around for our great-grandchildren to witness. The only real thriving population of grizzlies in America is in Alaska, which contains 95% of all of America's grizzlies.

Here are some grizzly facts about these bears:
  • Grizzly Bears live in less than 2% their original range in the United States

  • All Grizzlies in the Lower 48 are Listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and are in small, isolated populations at risk of local extinction

  • The total Grizzly population is only about 1% its former numbers

  • In the Rocky Mountains, 70% to 90% of all adult bear deaths are caused by humans

  • In British Columbia, it's legal to hunt Grizzlies for trophies although such acts are considered unsustainable

  • Climate change is have a large impact on some of the bears biggest food sources, particularly the white bark pine and cut worm moths
  • As Grizzlies lose key food sources and are under the threat of starvation, they spread outward in search of food, coming into increased conflict with surrounding human populations - conflicts the bears usually lose

OK, to perk you back up after that, get ready to say "awwwwww" and really, really want to be a biologist with a little video of Casey and Brutus:

Now, in my lifetime, I've done some awesome nerdriffic things. I have watched green sea turtles laying their eggs in the sand, helped the little babies make it to the sea, and fed spotted eagle rays by hand. I have held alligators, bonded with river otters, and have even been known to take in the occasional injured squirrel. But I am sooooo jealous of Casey Anderson. I mean, having a bear as best friend - that is just a nerdy animal lover's dream!

Anyhow, I was completely blown away by Expedition Grizzly. Be sure to nerd out to this amazing special on Sunday at 9!