JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The most famous grizzly bear on planet earth just did it again. She slept in.
No, well, she did emerge from hibernation rather late but not late for the 21-year-old sow that has earned the right to wait, sometimes, until June before getting out and about.
But what is far more newsworthy is the fact that 399 has cubs in tow…again. Two COYs (cubs-of-the-year) were seen trailing dutifully behind mom by dozens of thrilled photographers who have made it a spring ritual waiting and wondering if and when the old sow will make the scene in Grand Teton National Park.
To truly feel the fervor when it comes to 399, it pays to backtrack through a bit of the timeline that gets the griz to where she is today.
A living legend
Who could have known in 1996 when the bear cub was born it would go on to become one of the park’s oldest bears? Certainly no one was prepared for the way the bruin would capture the hearts of nature watchers and photographers from around the world.
As a cub, members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team handled the little bear, fitted her with a radio collar, and tagged her in their records as “399.” Since then the sow has gone on to produce more cubs than Wrigley Field—a total of 18 descendants in her prolific maternal career include other famous grizzlies, 610 and 760.
But it wasn’t until 2006 that 399 began reaching rock star status. That summer, the crafty sow began hanging around roadsides and other populated areas of Grand Teton. It was speculated she had learned it was the best way to protect her cubs from aggressive males who will kill a sow’s young in order to mate with her. These males are generally more elusive and prefer the remote backcountry.
Whatever the reason, the result was a “Kodak Kodiak.” The bear was probably the most photographed grizzly in history by the end of that summer. The notoriety probably helped save her life the following year, when she mauled a hiker after the man had accidently stumbled upon the sow and her three cubs with an elk carcass. The man pleaded to park officials not to kill the bear. Then park superintendent Mary Gibson Scott did pardon 399, saying the bear’s actions were instinctually protective and not aggressive.
It was the right move…and a popular one. Griz 399 continued to raise her offspring right smack in the public’s viewfinders without ever displaying annoyance or hostility.
In 2011, 399 and her daughter 610 astounded everyone when they pulled off a cub swap of sorts. Sow 610, who had two cubs of her own, “adopted” one of 399’s triplets. It was rare move that many wildlife experts admitted they had never seen or heard of.
But 399’s esteem didn’t end there. Last spring, the celebrated grizzly was thought to be lost to a hunter, who boasted he had killed her earlier that winter. “399 Back From the Dead,” read newspaper headlines last May when the sow not only rolled out of her winter den but did so with an adorable, white-faced cub at her hip.
The cub was immediately dubbed “Snowy,” and, almost as immediately, killed by a hit-and-run motorist near Pilgrim Creek drainage June 2016.
Facing life alone again, 399 headed back into hibernation at the start of last winter only to emerge to hopeful cameras this week with two little cubs. They will probably be her last. And they’re already famous.
Grizzly #399 with 2 Coy ( Cub's of the Year) showed herself & cub's at approximately 6:30pm , May 16, 2017 !!! She took her cub's to the exact spot that she took Snowy last June 19,2017 ,, fed on some grass on the grassy knoll and headed north !! She loved many us run around in the rain ??? !!!!
Posted by Bernie Scates on Tuesday, May 16, 2017