After being escorted out of Jackson last month, Wyoming’s most famous grizzly bear and her four cubs are likely back in their den for hibernation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“While we do not have a visual confirmation, based on the latest collar data received from the two yearlings, the Service believes that #399 and yearlings are now at a den site,” USFS spokesman Joe Szuszwalak told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.
Two of 399’s cubs were radio collared in the fall to reduce the chances of human/bear encounters. The group was escorted out of Jackson in November after being spotted near human food sources.
World-renowned photographer Thomas Mangelsen, a champion of the bear family, signaled relief to his followers upon receiving similar news from the Forest Service.
“Following a worrisome autumn of wandering south through ranch lands and neighborhoods, a night time trip through downtown Jackson, and three of the four cubs being trapped, tranquilized, and two radio collared, I am pleased to let you know that Grizzly 399 and all four cubs made it safely to their den,” Mangelsen said.
“399 will turn 26 during January. May she and her four cubs rest peacefully during Wyoming’s long dark winter and may they emerge in the spring to sunshine and warmth,” he said.
Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Hilary Cooley wasn’t entirely convinced that 399 would stay put but was cautiously optimistic.
“She was in the backcountry and moving a little bit, but it seemed like she was zeroing in on a den site,” Cooley told Jackson Hole Daily. “Just to be clear, we have not gone in there and we don’t want to disturb her, so this is all just from GPS locations and our interpretation of what’s going on. We could be wrong — I hope not — but she could come out tomorrow.”
Hibernation can last anywhere from four to seven months.
This year, the grizzly family was believed to go into hibernation in January and come out in April. The hibernation period was later than usual due to a lack of regular food sources.
As for next year, the federal agency doesn’t have a firm plan as to how they will deal with 399 and her quickly-growing cubs.
“The agencies are going to talk in January and February. We need to take a little breather here and then we’ll see,” Cooley told the newspaper.
Grizzly No. 399, at 25, has been a celebrity in the Jackson area for years, often bringing traffic to a stop as she and her cubs roam in Grand Teton National Park near Jackson. She is believed to have given birth to about 16 cubs, including the four now traveling with her.