One of Wyoming’s biggest wildlife rock stars, Grizzly 399, has yet to make an appearance this spring, even as other bruins have been popping out of hibernation.
Is that cause for concern about 399, who at age 27, is well into the grizzly senior citizen demographic?
Not really, some seasoned wildlife photographers told Cowboy State Daily. They are usually among the first to spot 399 in her spring haunts in and near Teton Park.
Grizzly 399 was last spotted in September 2022. When she might re-emerge depends upon whether she was pregnant when she went she went into hibernation, they said.
“She hasn't been seen yet. People are awaiting her first appearance of this year in the national park. If she doesn't have cubs of the year, it's likely she'll appear any day now,” Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven said on Friday.
“I don’t expect 399 to come out for a few weeks, especially with this much snow. Especially with new cubs. If she has new tiny cubs in the spring, she waits until the snow is nearly gone,” Tom Mangelson said late Thursday.
Jack Bayles, who heads “Team 399” -- which for years has provided photos and videos for 399’s worldwide social media fanbase -- also said this week that there had been “no sign” of the beloved momma grizzly.
“If 399 doesn’t have cubs we may not see her at all,” Daryl Hunter said “If she does have new cubs I’d be surprised if we see her before May 20th.”
Grizzlies rarely live to 30 in the wild, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore biologist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily previously. Grizzly 399’s long life can largely be attributed to her healthy teeth.
Older grizzlies frequently perish when their teeth rot and they can’t eat enough food – particularly high-protein fare like big game carcasses, Thompson said. He added that Game and Fish has no plans to tranquilize 399 and clean her teeth in hopes of prolonging her life.
She’s known to be a superb mother, raising many litters over the years. She gained fame through her habit of taking her cubs to areas near highways, apparently unfazed by mobs of adoring tourists.
In spring 2020, she emerged with quadruplets. That’s almost unheard of for grizzlies, who usually have twins, and rarely, triplets.
All four cubs survived until adolescence, and began separating from 399 in the summer of 2022.
Controversy erupted that July, after game wardens killed one of her newly-independent male cubs for “dangerous behavior” in settled areas.
Vangoidtsenhoven said one of the three surviving cubs from that litter was spotted recently.
“The good news is that her remaining male cub -- from the litter of four that left her last year -- was seen a few days ago in the park (Teton) and is looking good,” he said.
Another Litter On The Way?
It’s not known whether 399 got pregnant after separating from her cubs that summer.
She was seen in the company of a large male called “Bruno,” but it wasn’t confirmed whether the two grizzlies mated.
Grizzly 399 disappeared a little early last fall, which could be somewhat concerning Mangelson said.
“Nobody saw her after mid-September,” he said. “Usually she doesn’t den until November.”
He added that 399 was in good health when she was last spotted.
“The last time I saw her, she was looking really healthy. She was heavier-looking than I’ve seen her in past Septembers,” he said.
Still Too Much Snow
Mangelson said while a few boars (adult male grizzlies) have been seen stomping around, there’s still too much snow in the Teton wilderness and national park areas for smaller bears – particularly young cubs.
“There’s still four feet of snow at my house (in the low country),” he said.
Hunter said he’d seen “only boar roaming around” the snowy landscape.
Photo By Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven, vangophotos.com