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Fattest is fabulous for grizzlies in Alaska park

China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-09 09:38

A grizzly bear, known to researchers as "Bear 775 Lefty", looks for migrating salmon to help fatten up for the winter hibernation, in Katmai National Park, Alaska, on Sept 21. JOREL CUOMO/REUTERS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska grizzly bears packing on kilograms for the winter are competing for more than the season's last salmon. They are also vying for the title of the state's fattest bear.

Fat Bear Week has become a national internet sensation, pitting individual bears against each other in an online voting contest. This year's event, organized by Katmai National Park and Preserve, started with 12 bears.

Their photos have been displayed on Facebook for online voters to examine. As of Monday morning, the remaining contenders were Lefty, Grazer and Holly, a bear that gained fame a few years ago for adopting an abandoned cub.

The process of elimination concludes with a final round and a champion selected on Tuesday.

At Katmai, a park in southwestern Alaska known for its bountiful salmon runs and the huge grizzlies - Alaskans call them "brown bears" - that feed on them, Fat Bear Week is an annual highlight.

"It's something that appreciates fatness," said Naomi Boak, a conservancy media ranger at Katmai.

Katmai's bears need to build body mass before retreating to their hibernation dens in late October or early November.

In summer, the bears congregate at the park's Brooks River to gorge on salmon. By the time they are ready to waddle into the mountains for their winter sleep, male grizzlies can tip the scales at more than 1,000 pounds (454 kg), and females at more than 600 pounds. During hibernation, rangers say, bears typically lose about a third of their body weight.

"They work so hard to be so fat to survive the winter," Boak said.

The weeklong contest started in 2014 as a one-day event called Fat Bear Tuesday.

More than just fat-worshiping fun, the celebration is a valuable way to promote the park and educate the public, Boak said. She noted that schools from as far away as the East Coast have incorporated Fat Bear Week into their curriculum.


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