Grizzly 399 and 610 - Grand Teton's famous roadside bears
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK - Beloved and famous Grand Teton Grizzly Sow 399 and new set of triplet cubs made their debut on June 5, 2011 to the delight of many, but especially to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone's cadre of wildlife photographers like myself. 399 the four-hundred-pound grizzly acquired her unimaginative moniker in 2001 when, as a five-year-old sow, she was trapped and fitted with a radio collar so researchers could track her. Bear 399 was born to a mother who had no history with the legendary Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Study Team that tracks bears across the landscape.
During the summer of 2004, 399 emerged from her den with a single cub, but the cub disappeared. It is assumed it had a deadly encounter with an adult male grizzly which are known to kill cubs. Male grizzlies are the greatest treat to cubs, as female grizzlies will not come into heat as long as they are nursing cubs.
In late November of 2005 she denned up in the Teton Wilderness north of Grand Teton National park for hibernation. The following spring, she emerged with three new cubs in tow. Almost immediately, the sow and cubs drew large crowds. They became a sensation unlike any Grand Teton Park grizzly in modern memory.
399 once again is delighting tourists and photographers in the meadows along the road as she is often spotted digging for Uinta ground squirrels, wild onion, yampa root, and Indian potato. She and her cubs also graze on plants like dandelion and clover often with the intensity of other grazing animals. It's nature's salad bar that precedes the arrival of early summer's main course, newly born elk calves. Once the feast of elk veal decreases from the elk calving grounds surviving elk calves become harder to catch, the grizzly family returns to the salad bar of the meadows. In late summer, their diet turns to whitebark pine cones and berries. Grizzly 399 knows how to naturally forage, and has taught those skills to her offspring.
Grizzly bears were listed in 1975 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That designation was removed in 2007 but was restored by court order in 2009. In 1970, Yellowstone National Park initiated an intensive bear management plan with the objectives of restoring the grizzly bear populations to subsistence on natural forage and reducing bear-caused injuries to humans. As part of the new bear management program regulations prohibiting the feeding of bears were strictly enforced, as were regulations requiring that human food is kept secured from bears. In addition, garbage cans were bear-proofed and garbage dumps within the park were closed.
The results were disastrous for the existing grizzlies in Yellowstone as most died of starvation because they didn't know how to find natural food; however, the 150+ surviving bears figured it out and survived. These survivors taught their cubs too live off natural food, and now we have a thriving population of grizzlies in Yellowstone that avoid humans instead of seeking them out. Park biologists want to ensure that the Grizzlies remain wild and reliant upon natural food sources only. To keep all grizzly bears wild and free, people must practice good "bear aware" etiquette and be responsible while recreating in Grand Teton National Park. Grizzly sows hold premium "value" in a bear population. 399 has delivered two sets of triplets and is a key player in the exponential expansion of the Yellowstone Grizzly population.