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Cat Ellis

Don't panic – experts have debunked viral photo of 'giant' grizzly bear paw

Roaring grizzly bear.

Grizzly bears may soon be waking from hibernation, but despite what you might have seen on Instagram recently, you don't need to worry about any giant specimens with paws measuring over 1ft wide.

Earlier this month, a photo was posted on Instagram showing a hunter holding a bear's foot, with the caption "size of a grizzly bear's paw". The foot in question looks enormous in the man's hands; far bigger than you would expect. Grizzlies can become huge (as anyone who's watched Fat Bear Week will know), but this photo seemed very strange, so the fact-checking experts at Snopes began investigating.

If you're wondering whether the picture was AI-generated, it's a good question, but the answer is no. It first seems to have appeared online in 2021, before AI image generators were widely available to the public.

A reverse image search led investigators to a photo posted on Facebook by hunting supply company Lucky Duck Premium Decoys, allegedly showing a man named Rick Paillet. The same photo appeared on Paillet's own Facebook page, with a caption claiming he had "killed the giant bear" during a hunt in Alaska.

So if the photo is genuine, what's going on? It's likely simply a case of forced perspective, which is a photographic technique used to make an object or person look much larger than another. It's often used to great effect in movies, including the Lord of the Rings series, where it was one of many practical tricks employed to 'shrink' actors down to Hobbit size. 

The fact-checkers spoke to an expert at Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who said that Paillet appeared to be holding the edge of the paw and thrusting it towards the camera at arm's length.

"It's a big animal to be sure, but they are exaggerating the size," said Riley Woodford,  photo editor for the department's image library.

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