11.08.20: Battling bears

Two brown bears spar at the Columbus Zoo, Powell, Ohio.

Two brown bears spar at the Columbus Zoo, Powell, Ohio.

Brown bears stage playful fight at the zoo

When it comes to zoo photography, this scene is a bit of a rarity for me.

First, the animals — brown bears — are doing something interesting and not just sitting around or sleeping. And second, there are no glass barriers, metal bars, screens or people that I have to shoot through, over or around. That’s not typical.

Every time I post a photo taken in a zoo, I make the same statement: I have more difficulty getting quality photos of animals in a zoo than I do in the wild.

It seems like it should be the other way around. After all, I know exactly where the animals are in a zoo. There are maps and signs showing where to find animals. Can't miss 'em. Just walk up to the pen and start shooting. Nothing to it.

Except there are often high fences to shoot through. Or glass walls. And crowds of people. And the animals tend to seek shelter far from the viewing areas.

But these brown bears at Columbus Zoo were putting on a show for my camera, separated from me only by a short wall and a deep moat. They were snarling and pushing while sparring.

It was all for fun.

The bears, named Brutus and Buckeye by the zoo (it seems everything in Central Ohio has an Ohio State University theme), have been at the zoo since 2004. According to zoo staff, the bears are brothers orphaned in Alaska when they were only a few months old.

According to the zoo, a man was walking his dog on his property in Alaska when he was charged by a female brown bear. To protect himself and his dog he had to shoot the bear, only to discover that the bear charged to protect its two cubs nearby. He called authorities.

Alaska Fish and Game caught the cubs and took them to the Alaska Zoo.  They were later moved to the Columbus Zoo.

Zoo staff says the bears weighed around 50 pounds each when they arrived in Columbus. They were 12 years old when this photo was taken in 2016 and weigh between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds each.

According to zoo staff, the bears have interacted like typical siblings since they were young, playing — and play-fighting — often during the day.

But these brown bears at Columbus Zoo were putting on a show for my camera, separated from me only by a short wall and a deep moat. They were snarling and pushing while sparring.

Tech specs

  • Date: April 18, 2016, 10:22 a.m.
  • Location: 40°9'31.608" N 83°6'50.777" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1250th second
  • ISO: 800