YOSEMITE VALLEY, Calif. -- A Yosemite National Park ranger is sharing a heartbreaking account about a young bear that was struck and killed by a vehicle, and her grieving mother, to illustrate the impact of those types of collisions on the park's inhabitants.
The ranger shared the story on the park's Facebook page, along with an emotionally charged photo of the bear standing over her dead cub, estimated to be just months old.
"From behind me there's a deep toned but soft sounding grunt. I immediately know what it is. It's a vocalization, the kind sows (female bears) make to call to their cubs...This bear is the mom, and she never left her cub," the ranger continued.
It was a sight the ranger came across while responding to another call of a bear killing, which the ranger acknowledged have become all too frequent, and even routine, for those that work in the park. Vehicle-bear collisions have become one of the leading causes of black bear deaths in Yosemite.
"I try to remember how many times I've done this now and, truthfully, I don't know. This is not what any of us signs up for, but it's a part of the job nonetheless," the post read.
The ranger's account went on to detail the process of responding to the call. Once at the scene, the ranger finds a broken car part in the middle of the road and the dead cub down the embankment off to the side.
"It's a new cub-couldn't be much more than six months old, now balled up and lifeless under a small pine tree. For a moment I lose track of time as I stand there staring at its tiny body, but then the sound of more cars whizzing by reminds me of my place and my role. I let out a deep sigh and continue on with my task."
The ranger picks up the cub, which "couldn't be much more than 25 pounds" and begins carrying it further into the woods.
"I'm just walking until I can no longer hear the hiss of the road behind me. I see a grassy spot surrounded by a semi-ring of down logs and gravitate towards it. The least I can do is find it a nice place to be laid. I lay it down in the grass protected by one of the nearby logs and sit back on the log opposite of it, slightly relieved that it looks far more in place now than when I found it earlier. I take another moment and then continue with my work," the ranger continues.
A few minutes into the assessment of the lifeless female cub -- "perhaps she would have had cubs of her own," the ranger writes -- the process is interrupted by another bear.
"Surprised, I stand up quickly and the bear runs off into the brush but stops not far off and looks back at me. Acting on instinct, I pick up a stick and smash it over a tree to scare the bear further away. I stand there quietly, listening as I hear the bear's footsteps tapper away"
But then the ranger hears the bear's vocalization and instantly recognizes it as that of a mother.
"My heart sinks. It's been nearly six hours and she still hasn't given up on her cub. I can just imagine how many times she darted back and forth on that road in attempts to wake it. It's extremely lucky that she wasn't hit as well. The calls to the cub continue, sounding more pained each time. I glance back, finding myself hoping it would respond to her call too, but of course, nothing. Now here I am, standing between a grieving mother and her child. I feel like a monster."
The ranger then gets up to leave, but decides to set up a remote camera to document the sad scene with the hopes that it will illustrate the "sad reality behind each of these numbers."
"So please, remember this. Remember that when traveling through Yosemite, we are all just visitors in the home of countless animals and it is up to us to follow the rules that protect them. Go the speed limit, drive alertly, and look out for wildlife. Protecting Yosemite's black bears is something we can all do."