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How to Signal for Help with a Wildlife Camera

It’s always wise to have a Plan B (and perhaps a Plan C, D, and E) for emergency communication in the wilderness, especially if you’re heading off alone. But who would have thought that wildlife webcams might save the day? 

On a wet and windy day in September, in one of the most remote national parks in the U.S., a tiny wildlife webcam did just that. People thousands of miles away had tuned into an Explore.com livestream in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, hoping to see brown bears fattening up for winter.  

Instead, they spotted a hiker waving into the camera and audibly asking for help.

Image by Morsa Images

“This was certainly a first for us,” Mike Fitz, an Explore.com naturalist, told NPR. While people have previously spotted and reported injured animals via wildlife lifestreams, this was a unique rescue situation. Viewers sent comments to Explore.com, raising the alarm that a hiker was in distress, and authorities then sent a search-and-rescue team to find them. The hiker was found—wet and cold but ultimately safe—by rangers a few hours later, and brought off the mountain. 

You can’t drive to Katmai, making it one of the country’s wildest and most remote national parks. Most visitors arrive by air or by sea. There are about 2,200 brown bears there, many of whom are famous from the Fat Bear Week competition, which starts October 4 this year and ends on “Fat Bear Tuesday,” October 10.

It’s unclear how the hiker found the webcam, NPR reported. While there’s a small installation of solar panels and wind turbines that sticks out among the vegetation, it’s not something you would easily spot from a distance, especially during bad weather conditions. The hiker was even luckier for being spotted. People often tune in for the annual Fat Bear Week, which pits grizzlies against one another to see who’s beefed up the most going into hibernation, but there were just a handful of viewers on the Dumpling Mountain livestream when the hiker was seen, The Guardian reported.
If you’re heading off on a remote expedition soon, it might not be a bad idea to familiarize yourself with any wildlife webcams in the area, in addition to other, more reliable methods of emergency communication. And even if you’re not heading off on your own, these webcams are worth a gander next time you’ve got a lull in your work day—you might spot a bear catching a fish, or you might just save the day.

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