By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Tooth wear is common among elderly grizzly bears, a biologist said, but wildlife photographers have noted that the teeth of famed Grizzly 399 are still in good shape.
However, bruin tooth-cleaning isn’t an option, even for a bear as widely treasured as Teton Park’s Grizzly 399, said Dan Thompson, a wildlife biologist and large carnivore specialist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Game and Fish would never consider cleaning a bear’s teeth, Thompson said in an e-mail to Cowboy State Daily. And even if 399’s teeth were cleaned, it probably would not prolong her life.
“As far as teeth go for geriatric bears and other carnivores, it’s not so much cleaning and decay but overall tooth wear to the point where they get worn down to gumline,” Thompson said.
Old, But Spry
Grizzly 399 was born in winter 1996 and is now about 26 years old and one of the oldest grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. That’s an advanced age for grizzlies, which rarely live into their late 20s.
Grizzly 399 has gained a worldwide fan base over the years. That’s because of her habit of frequenting roadsides in Teton Park, where she’s easily visible to tourists and photographers. She’s also frequently taken her cubs to those spots, apparently unperturbed by gawking crowds.
She disappeared in June, which isn’t unusual for her that time of year if she doesn’t have cubs with her. Her last set of cubs, quadruplets, were about 2 years old when they struck out on their own this spring. One of those sub-adult cubs was later killed by game wardens after several conflicts with humans. That cub’s death sparked nationwide controversy.
Grizzly 399 recently reappeared, looking vibrant and healthy, according to a Facebook post by Team 399, a group of enthusiasts who photograph and video the bear and her cubs for fans across the globe.
Eating doesn’t seem to be a problem for her, said Team 399 member Jack Bayles. Grizzlies are fattening up for hibernation this time of year, and 399 has been hard at it.
“399 was visible working on berries and then found a carcass,” he said.