Grizzly 863 (aka Felicia) and her cub Pepper pre-separation. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A bear of a drama playing out on Togwotee Pass appears to have a happy ending in a final chapter written just this week.

An abandoned grizzly bear cub that has come to be known as Pepper has, for the time being, reunited with its mother, a sow dubbed Felicia by faithful followers.

The story begins

The story began in early May when a family of three emerged from hibernation in the Togwotee area. A grizzly tagged as 863 (Felicia) was the proud mother of two COYs (cubs of the year). Soon after, the family became fractured when a boar grizzly began harassing the three.

All this played out under the watchful eyes of onlookers as the bears chose to remain quite near and sometimes on US Highway 287 near Hatchet Resort. Traffic, wildlife photographers, and Game & Fish officials themselves were frequent disruptions to the bears’ lives until one day in mid-May, one of the cubs was missing.

With no reports of a cub being hit on the highway, it was simply assumed the male grizzly had been successful in driving the cub away until it became lost or had outright killed it. Boars will attempt to kill cubs in order to get the sow to come into heat again and breed.

By June, it was evident Felicia and the one remaining cub (Pepper) were also separated. The cub was spotted frequently by wildlife photographers. Felicia also was spotted, though less frequently. The bears were sometimes miles apart.

By July, calls for wildlife managers to get involved had fallen on deaf ears.

“Why doesn’t Game and Fish trap the bears and reunite them?” was the thought of most observers closely watching the drama play out.

Game and Fish spokesperson Mark Gocke explained, “I’ve never heard of us trying to do something like that. We generally don’t like to tamper with the natural process and catch animals if there is not a good reason to do it. Any time you handle an animal there is a risk involved. There is no reason for us to intervene.”

Some observers contend the bear family became separated as a result of human interference when Game and Fish officials arrived on more than one occasion during ‘bear jams’ on Togwotee and used cracker shells and other methods of scaring the bears off the highway for their own protection from vehicles.

Game and Fish disagreed that their efforts could separate the sow and cub for long.

“That sow has abandoned the cub. The mother bear has been very close to the cub and has chosen not to hook up with it,” Gocke said just last week. “Nature can be pretty brutal sometimes. It is not all that common that this happens but it could happen more than we know because it is usually away from the highway and you don’t see it.”

Gocke continued that Grizzly 863 is a first-time mother. They sometimes have difficulty adjusting and developing a strong maternal instinct. In addition, there was some speculation that after one cub was lost, Felicia may have become overwhelmed with raising the single cub, Pepper. Rearing one cub can be more demanding on a mother with a cub’s need for attention and no sibling to interact with.

Happy ending?

In early July, mother and cub were sighted quite close to one another. Pepper was observed and video’d exhibiting signs of awareness about his mother’s scent in areas Felicia had been in just recently. At one point, Pepper smelled mom who was just 250 yards away.

Then, finally, thousands following the saga got the happy ending they were hoping for. Pepper the cub had done an amazing job staying alive without its mother for months. It would have not survived the winter alone.

On Tuesday, July 16, Felicia and Pepper were reported together again. Several online sources and wildlife photographers confirmed the pair had reunited with no signs Felicia was rejecting the cub.

Time will tell whether the family remains intact. For now, the story appears to have the ending most were hoping for.