McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, located on the west side of Cook Inlet some 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, is a very special place. It was established to provide a safe sanctuary for one of the world's greatest concentrations of grizzly bears. At McNeil, the bears come first. To visit, you must be one of the lucky few to win a lottery-drawn viewing permit. It is common for people to apply 10-20 years and never win a permit. I applied for the first time in 2003, and won a permit on my first try!
Of all the bears I saw at McNeil, none was more impressive than this magnificent, battle-scarred male. The Sanctuary staff estimated that he weighed around 1,200 pounds, and you can see from the scar on his face and the fresh wounds on his front legs that he actively asserts his dominance over the other males. In fact, he was without doubt the dominant male - when he appeared all the other bears would immediately take notice.
Normally, when he was walking around or fishing, his mouth was always open, exposing his large canine teeth. With the scars and wounds, he presented quite a fearsome-looking spectacle. In this photo however, he seems to be showing his more "sensitive" side. This is one of my favorite photographs of him because of the somewhat confused, bewildered look on his face.
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