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Animals

I’m Sorry About Stuffing The Ballot Box For My Favorite Fat Bear

Holly, as seen in September 2020
KatmaiNPS

Ope, my bad guys. I really should not have created a bot that would hack fatbearweek.org and vote 400,000 times for Holly to win the fattest bear competition. That was a real goof on my part.

Can you really blame me, though? Holly has consistently, year in and year out, been the best fat bear of Fat Bear Week, Katmai National Park’s annual celebration of its brown bears’ survival skills and appetites. But after winning the whole thing in 2019, Holly has gone two years without a return to the top, and the reason why completely escapes me. Look at the cinnamon fur, that confident stance, and that belly filled with more salmon than a Brooklyn deli. I couldn’t resist.

This was no mere crime of passion, however, because Holly is more than just her good looks. She is a noble and strong mother who has proven instrumental in the lives of many young cubs, especially those with troubled lives. From the bear bios:

When she was first identified in 2001, Holly was just maturing into an adult. Since then, she has reared several litters of cubs and in the process has become one of the most experienced bears at Brooks River.

Her motherly journey hasn’t been without hardship. When Holly and her single yearling arrived in 2007, the yearling had a pronounced limp. Despite the challenges that accompanied her yearling’s injury, Holly successfully cared for him. This bear, now known as 89 Backpack, still uses Brooks River. In 2014 Holly adopted a lone yearling cub into her family. Holly cared for and raised this bear alongside her biological cub, weaning them both in the spring of 2016. Each of those bears are now successful adults—503 and 719. Holly’s spring cub in 2020—now identified as bear 335—suffered from porcupine quills in a front paw, but when Holly returned in 2021 her cub appeared to be fully healed. 

Holly is without a doubt the hard-working, underappreciated underbear of this contest. By contrast, her opponent in the semifinal, who merely goes by the moniker “747,” is the ultimate glory boy. He is “the river’s most dominant bear,” per his file, and “one of the largest brown bears on Earth, perhaps weighing as much as 1,400 pounds.” I couldn’t let sweet Holly crumple in defeat against this privileged powerhouse. She needed my help! And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling park rangers.

Am I happy that Katmai managed to foil my plot? No, not at all. But I accept the final count because I know that Holly is a better bear than I can ever hope to be. She would not have accepted this tainted victory any more than she would have accepted a few leafy greens at dinnertime. I know she will win Fat Bear Week again, eventually, and when she does, she’ll want her triumph to come fair and square. Well, fair and round.