‘Happy’ bear grins for camera as photographer’s years of work pay off. See its smile

A black bear appears to grin as it crosses over a ridge on a mountain overlooking a Southern California city — the result of a wildlife photographer’s years of hard work.

Johanna Turner started setting up trail cameras in the California wilderness to observe wild animals in their natural habitat about a decade ago, and her work proved that wildlife is often much closer to people than many realize, she told McClatchy News over the phone on Friday, May 10.

“Many of my cameras are in urban areas to show people how close the wildlife is. It disproved the feeling I had and others seem to have that there’s the mountains and the wild and the city, and they don’t ever meet or interact,” Turner said. “That’s what brought me to the ridge with happy bear.”

Turner carefully selected the location in the steep San Gabriel mountains overlooking Pasadena, about a 10-mile drive northeast of Los Angeles. She set the camera up in a spot that would trigger the camera shutter just as the bear made it to the top of the ridge — almost a whole year ago, she said.

The stunning photo shows the bear stepping up onto the ridge with a dark mountain peak behind it and bright city lights shining just below the edge of the mountain range.

“That’s probably four miles as the crow flies of distance between people’s backyards on the front range and the mountains,” she said. “We almost do have a line where there are houses right up against the national forest and the city is down below.”

Recreation and hiking are very popular in the area, which was recently designated as a national monument, Turner said. The new status will increase federal funding for trail maintenance, firefighting staff and park rangers.

“He’ll now have more protection and funding to keep his habitat nice,” she said of the happy bear.

Viewers gushed over the “outstanding” shot on Turner’s social media accounts, where she posts her wildlife photos. Her project is called Cougarmagic.

“Wow. This bear looks so happy,” someone wrote under the photo on Facebook.

Another person commented about how close the bear was to the city.

“Hard to believe such a big fella could be so near,” they said.

“He’s happy. He’s in the San Gabriel Nat’l Monument,” someone agreed. “Plenty of room.”

“What a beauty … and a happy bear,” another person said. “This shot is incredible … I’m in awe.”

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