Photographers demonstrate the wrong way to snap Yellowstone's most famous bears

Obsidian Sow and her three cubs at Yellowstone National Park
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Bear 815 at Yellowstone National Park, also known as Obsidian Sow, has become something of a local celebrity after giving birth to three cubs last year. Unfortunately, the family's popularity has led some members of the public to endanger themselves in the hopes of getting a photo of the four at close range.

Last month, professional photographer Stacy ONell found herself stuck in a bear jam as Obsidian and her three yearlings crossed a road, and could only watch as over a dozen people piled out of their cars, cameras and phones in hand, for a closer look. She recorded the incident from inside her vehicle, and captured the moment Obsidian Sow changed direction and ran towards the assembled crowd to drive them away from her cubs.

Grizzly bears prefer to avoid encounters with people, but can lash out if their or their young are threatened. Luckily for these photographers, her charge was only a bluff and once the people moved she changed course and led her three cubs to safety.

Her video (which you can see below) was shared this week via Instagram account TouronsOfYellowstone, which calls out bad behavior at US National Parks, often involving wildlife.

Emma Jacobs, professional wildlife photographer and panel judge for the RSPCA Young Photographer Awards, explains that patience and care are essential for photographing wild animals.

"Only photograph natural behaviors and always avoid making animals do anything to cause them harm or distress," she explains in our guide six wildlife photography tips from a pro. "That means no startling birds to get them to take flight or tempting a marmot closer with trail mix. You’re a guest in their house, so be quiet, still and let them be wild."

Be bear aware

Distracting or harassing wildlife at US National Parks is a federal offence, and visitors caught breaking the rules can expect a hefty fine, or even a brief spell in jail.

"The animals in Yellowstone are wild and unpredictable, no matter how calm they appear to be," warns the National Park Service (NPS) "The safest (and often best) view of wildlife is from inside a car."

You should always stay at least 100 yards (91 meters) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 meters) from bison and elk. A telephoto camera lens or a pair of binoculars will help you get a good view from a safe distance. For more advice, check out our guide wildlife safety: eight tips for surprise encounters.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.