One of Wyoming’s most famous and beloved bears, Grizzly 610, laid by a highway in pain for hours after apparently being struck by a hit-and-run driver late Monday afternoon, but was up walking around with her cubs early Tuesday.
“She wasn’t very active at all. She was just laying there, not moving, with her head down on the ground,” said local wildlife photographer Jacob Krank, who was on the scene Monday afternoon.
Grizzly 610 is an adult offspring of Wyoming’s most famous bear, Grizzly 399. Grizzly 610 has an adoring worldwide following of her own on social media and has three yearling cubs.
The bear was struck along a stretch of U.S. Highway 89 that runs through Teton National Park between Buffalo Valley and Moran Junction, which is notorious for drivers speeding and wildlife being struck, Krank told Cowboy State Daily.
Krank arrived at about 5 p.m., probably about an hour after 610 was struck. He said he saw skid marks on the highway that could have been from the vehicle that struck the bear, and it was likely a semi.
“There were really long skid marks. They ended right there where she was hit,” he said. “It looked to be from dualies (dual tires), probably a big rig. Going by the length of the skid marks, that thing must have really been hauling ass through that winding, low-visibility stretch of highway.”
The accident was apparently a hit-and-run, National Park Service spokeswoman Valarie Gohlke told Cowboy State Daily.
It wasn’t “100%” verified that the bear that was struck is 610. However, the bear that was hit has a scar under its eye that is one of 610's identifying marks, as well as the telltale triplet yearling cubs, Gohlke said.
As of late Tuesday morning, officials had no solid leads on who struck the bear or with what type of vehicle, she said.
“Nobody witnessed it (the collision). There was no identified vehicle and nobody called it in,” she said.
Park rangers were monitoring the bear and her cubs from a distance Monday, and it wasn’t limping or displaying any signs of external injuries, she added.
Cubs ‘Did Great’
Krank said he and others gathered at the scene looked on as Grizzly 610 apparently suffered in immense pain for hours. She moved short distances a couple of times, but mostly just laid down and didn’t move.
Meanwhile, her cubs stayed mostly hidden, but appeared to be calm. And park rangers did a good job of keeping people from getting too close to the bears, he said.
“The cubs did great. They hung back away from the road and stayed calm. They didn’t run back and forth across the road, wailing, like they could have,” Krank said.
Eventually, some “popping sounds” were heard, and Grizzly 610 moved off, he said.
That led to rumors that park rangers “hard hazed” the mother bear away from the road with “cracker shells,” essentially firecrackers that explode mid-air after being fired from shotguns.
Krank said a ranger at the scene told him that they hadn’t “hard hazed” the bear.
Gohlke also said the bear wasn’t hazed.
“There are rumors that we hard hazed her yesterday. That’s absolutely not true, she ventured off on her own with her cubs,” she said.
Krank said that even if there had been some hazing involved, it would have been the “right call” by park rangers.
“Grizzly 610 and her cubs weren’t safe right down by the highway like that,” he said.
Up And Moving
Krank said that some friends told him early Tuesday that Grizzly 610 had been seen with her cubs and appeared to be moving normally. He said he planned to return to the park and join the others keeping an eye on her.
The Park Service is reminding people to keep their distance from the bear and her cubs, and also is watching her for any signs of lingering injuries, Gohlke said.
Krank said the next several days will tell if Grizzly 610 will be OK going into the winter and hibernation.
“She’s definitely not out of the woods yet. She could develop an infection. She could have a shard of broken bone that’s causing more internal damage every time she moves,” said Krank, who has followed and photographed 610, 399 and other Teton grizzlies for years.
Gohlke said “it’s heartbreaking” to think that the grizzly could still have serious injuries, but rangers were hopeful that she’ll make a full recovery.
She added that drivers speeding through Teton has been a chronic problem, and wildlife has been paying the price.
So far in 2023, seven bears have been struck by vehicles in Teton Park, she said. That includes the grizzly that was hit Monday and six black bears hit in previous accidents.
Of those black bears, two were confirmed killed, and one was suspected to have died from its injuries, she said.
“And we’ve had elk and deer and all kinds of other animals stuck this her. We ask people please, especially along that stretch of Highway 89, to slow down and be alert,” Gohlke said.
Krank agreed that it’s a terrible stretch of road for wild animals.
“The speed limit through there needs to be reduced from 55 mph to 45,” he said. “It goes through a really winding stretch of road that’s just crawling with wildlife.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.