If Wyoming’s beloved Grizzly 399 has been moving around a lot lately, it’s likely because she’s looking for what amounts to grizzly super food as she packs on pounds in preparation for winter hibernation.
That “super food” for grizzlies is piles of elk guts left by hunters.
“This time of the year, during hunting season, the grizzlies typically know to visit those hunting areas to find the elk guts left behind by hunters, so I would expect 399 to be in the national forest and the hunting areas,” wildlife photographer Jorn Vangoidtsenhoven told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
Even so, 399 and her very large first-year cub Spirit might have deviated a little from the usual pattern, he said.
“399's usual area near Pilgrim Creek borders such national forest hunting areas, so not sure why she's reportedly back south on private land now,” Vangoidtsenhoven said.
Otherwise, it’s been autumn business as usual for 399, Wyoming’s most famous grizzly bear.
“After a brief excursion south of the park, where she took her four cubs in the past, she returned to the park and her usual area last week. However, latest reports put her back south of the national park with her cub,” Vangoidtsenhoven said.
Like other grizzlies this time of year, 399 is busy scouring the landscape for all the calories she can find.
And it was about this time last year that she went off the radar, presumably ambling off into the backcountry to hibernate. There was concern this spring when she didn’t emerge as early as many of her fans expected.
But worry turned into jubilation when she emerged in mid-May with a brand-new cub.
After some debate over what the cub should be named, the moniker “Spirit” stuck.
Spirit has been noted for his (or her) massive size. The cub really sprouted his summer, causing some observers to refer to Spirit as “gigantic.”
It’s actually not all that surprising that Spirit is super-sized, Vangoidtsenhoven said. During its early life, the cub didn’t have to compete for mother’s milk with any siblings.
“The cub is pretty large indeed, probably because it's a single cub, so no competition for milk. It's promising for the coming winter that the bears look good,” he said.
After the brutal winter of 2022-23, bears and other wildlife benefitted hugely from a wet spring and summer. Among the many things the eat, grizzlies like munching on fresh, green grasses.
399’s last litter were quadruplets born in 2020, which meant each cub was competing with three others for mother’s milk. Those cubs separated from 399 in the summer of 2022. Game wardens in July of that year killed one of the newly independent cubs, which had reportedly been involved in too many conflicts with humans.
Grizzly cubs typically separate from their mothers at about age 2. Grizzly 399 was 27 when she had Spirit, making her the oldest grizzly mama on record. It also raises the question of what the odds are for her surviving long enough to raise Spirit to independence.
She probably will, some grizzly experts recently told Cowboy State Daily.
Grizzly 399 appears to be in robust health this year and still has good teeth, Vangoidtsenhoven said.
And although grizzlies don’t usually live past 30 in the wild, it’s not unheard of, said retired federal ecologist and longtime grizzly researcher Chuck Neal of Cody.
“The longest-lived grizzly on record reached age 38 in Glacier National Park,” Neal said. “Based on what I know, there’s no reason why 399 can’t raise this cub.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.