Watch: Grizzly Bear Eats a Cow Elk That’s Still Alive

A video captures the end of the line for an elk with two broken legs
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A grizzly bear eats an elk.
Kevin Fuchs, via Instagram

Even though wild animals are eaten and killed by scavengers and predators every single day, we rarely get a front-row seat to this process in action. That’s why a video posted to Nature is Metal’s Instagram account on Saturday is both hard to watch and hard to look away from. The footage shows a cow elk lying on her side as a grizzly bear feeds on her rump.

At first, it’s hard to tell if the elk is still alive. The cow is in horrible body condition, with a bedraggled coat and at least one broken leg. Weak movements from the cow could be mistaken for the grizzly shaking what otherwise appears to be a carcass. But one wide eye and ribs rising as she breathes are proof that the elk is hanging onto life even as the bear goes to work.

Wyoming wildlife photographer Kevin Fuchs captured the footage and posted it to his own Instagram profile this spring, along with a viewer discretion advisory.

“This grizzly bear was seen earlier on this elk that had previous injuries consisting of one, if not both, back legs broken,” Fuchs writes in the video caption. He guesses that the elk might have been hit by a car, resulting in the broken rear legs and an obvious inability to escape the bear.

Grizzly bears, like all other bear species, are omnivores. In addition to fresh meat, carrion, and insects, they eat roots, berries, forbs, and other vegetation. Their diets also shift depending on the ecosystem where they live.

“[Their diet] varies a lot by region,” Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks bear biologist Jamie Jonkel told Outdoor Life in September. “Even here in Montana, there are different types of habitat. If you compare the Yellowstone ecosystem to the Missoula area, it’s totally different. If you go to the north around Glacier [National Park] and Libby, it’s totally different. Then you go out to the coast in Alaska, and that’s different. There’s a lot of variation out there.”

Despite that variation, meat is a requisite food source in every part of a grizzly bear’s range. The largest brown bears in the world, Kodiak brown bears rely mostly on salmon and other fish in their diet. Grizzlies in Montana and Wyoming eat a lot of meat from ungulates, like elk.

“Bears use the most nutritious parts of their food to maximize their weight gain,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game explains in a fact sheet about Kodiak bears. “Grass and forbs are only used while they are rapidly growing in the spring and early summer. Brains, flesh and eggs are preferred parts of the salmon. Internal organs of deer, elk and cattle are eaten first when one is killed or scavenged. Berries are used most often when they are ripe and sugars are at their highest level.”

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That might explain this particular grizzly’s behavior. Organs are the most nutrient-dense part of a prey animal, so this bear could be feeding on hindquarter meat, or it could be eating the elk’s intestines and colon. (Wolves exhibit similar behavior when hunting, and are even known to pull fetuses from the wombs of pregnant does or cows.) This video is a stark reminder that predators and prey will do whatever they can to survive.