As Wyoming’s most fearsome wild critters, whether grizzly bears should be given “cuddly” names is a longstanding debate in wildlife circles.
One Cowboy State wildlife enthusiast says no to naming grizzlies, while a wildlife photographer says naming can be practical because it can make them easier to identify.
In the latest bear-naming buzz, social media platforms have lit up as people try to settle on a name for Grizzly 399’s https://cowboystatedaily.com/2023/06/19/famed-wyoming-grizzly-cub-jam-separates-from-mom-raspberry-399s-new-cub-still-unnamed/newest cub. “Uno” and “Rowdy” have gotten strong support, but the moniker “Spirit” seems to have taken the lead.
A pair of famous Yellowstone grizzlies with adorable names made headlines in the past week when a mamma grizz named “Raspberry” cut ties with her 3-year-old cut, “Jam.”
‘They’re Not Pets’
Fishing guide Scott Hocking and photographer Mark Perry both told Cowboy State Daily that, regardless of what grizzlies are called, people should keep their distance.
“They’re not pets. It’s not like people are going up to them and giving them treats,” said Perry of Bozeman, Montana, who owns Bridger Peaks Photography.
He added that from a photographer’s standpoint, naming the bears makes it simpler to identify and keep track of them.
Hocking, who lives in Teton County, said naming bears can give the wrong impression about them, that they’re somehow tame and approachable.
“These are truly wild things, and if you give them a human name it takes away from that, especially if it’s a cuddly name,” said Hocking, who guides anglers with Teton Troutfitters.
Already A Bad Tourist Season
Hocking said he worries that giving grizzlies friendly sounding names might encourage dangerous behavior from inexperienced tourists.
‘To call a bear ‘Felicity,’ which means ‘friendly,’ that’s kind of antithetical to what a grizzly actually is,” he said.
He added that there have already been stupid antics with wildlife this year as visitors pour into Wyoming.
“We’ve already had somebody jumping out of their car and growling at bears,” Hocking said.
He was refereeing to an as-yet unidentified man jumping out of his vehicle to harass black bears, possibly in Yellowstone Park, while a friend took videos of the foolhardy shenanigans.
‘Bear Jam’ Controversy
Perry said that “bear jams” are common in Yellowstone and Teton parks. That’s where traffic is jammed up because of bears on and around the roads that go through the parks.
Perhaps following 399’s lead, mother grizzlies have developed the habit of taking their cubs near crowded roadways, he said. That could help keep the cubs safe from large boars (male grizzlies) that might try to kill the cubs. But it also puts them in close proximity with humans.
In nearly all instances, park ranges or wildlife patrol volunteers do a good job of keeping gawkers a safe distance away from grizzlies, Perry said.
Park Service rules state that people shouldn’t get any closer than 100 yards from bears and wolves, or 25 yards away from other wildlife.
Controversy recently erupted over a photo that Geoffrey Tipton of Jackson posted on Facebook of his truck with another famous Wyoming bear, Grizzly 610, standing next to it. He stated it was taken during a bear jam in Teton Park. Some people in comments sections flamed Tipton for allegedly getting too close to the bear.
However, another photographer, Kari Godfrey of Minnesota, told Cowboy State Daily that she was at the same bear jam, and never saw anybody get too close to Grizzly 610 or her cubs.
She backed up Tipton’s claim that his photo had been taken with a telephoto lens from a safe distance.
Hocking said he’s seen dangerous antics during bear jams, and recalled one particularly ridiculous instance he witnessed a few years ago.
“As the bear was moving down one side of the cars, there was this guy trying to parallel the bear from the other side and get a photo with his phone. He was sprinting with his bear spray in one hand and his phone in the other,” Hocking said.
Numbers Work Too
Wildlife researchers assign numbers to the grizzlies they capture and study directly. Hence, “Grizzly 399” and “Grizzly 610.” It’s up to the public to decide whether to name other bears that aren’t numbered as part of a study.
Perry said it doesn’t matter to him whether a bear has a name or a number, so long as he can keep up with the chatter over which bear is where. That allows him to get on location and set up for good photos.
“If they have a number, like 399, I’m fine with that,” he said. “Because of you tell me ‘I saw 399,’ I know who you’re talking about.”
Hocking said he wishes all the bears could just be given numbers, lessening the chances that some people think they can make friends with the bruins.
“I really fear that we’re going to have some terrible tragedy” because cute names can diminish a healthy fear of grizzlies, he said.
However, he acknowledged that as Wyoming’s grizzlies continue to gain online fans across the globe, the adorable names are going to keep coming.
“I guess there’s no stopping it (naming grizzlies) now. I would just like to temper it with some caveats,” he said. “These are not approachable animals.”