After taking her time to reemerge from hibernation, some feared the worst. But 27-year-old Grizzly 399 is not only alive and well, she’s got another cub!
It’s been a remarkable 24 hours for us bear-obsessed humans. For those in Grand Teton National Park waiting patiently, that patience was rewarded with the loveliest sight: Grizzly 399 thriving with a COY (cub of the year).
For those of us who live elsewhere but live the bear life, social media erupted. Wildlife photographers brought this beautiful occasion to the rest of us. 399, or “the most famous bear in the world,” is back, healthy, and still producing offspring at the incredible age of 27. She’s now the oldest wild bear on record to do so, grizzly or otherwise.
A personal favorite shot of the pair comes from Jackson Hole, Wyoming wildlife photographer Savannah Rose. Here, Grizzly 399 stands tall in Grand Teton as her adorable cub imitates:
“Words are failing me at the moment as I try to articulate the emotions surrounding the events of today! 399 is back, bringing with her a single precious cub,” Rose says.
“Both appear so healthy. So honored to have been on scene for this historic moment,” she adds, noting that “this is the oldest bear know to reproduce in this ecosystem. Hopefully one cub is a nice break from having four!”
That it has to be. But this sow has never been one to shy away from a challenge – or the public eye.
Grizzly 399: One Remarkable Momma Bear
399 is known for “showing off,” or “parading” if you prefer, her cubs to adoring onlookers. It’s a form of habituation, sadly, but one that has brought unparalleled attention to the conservation of her species.
And around 3:00 PM yesterday, it began again. 399 had been spotted, crowds were gathering, and her usual home of Teton’s Pilgrim Creek area became the center of the bear universe once more.
As Grand Teton National Park’s bear management specialist Justin Schwabedissen says, “She’s an ambassador for her species.”
Back in 2020, 399 had an incredible four cubs, which is a lot to handle at any age – and also exceptionally rare for the species. But for an elder grizzly sow? It was beyond remarkable. That was the last year she’d rear offspring before emerging late Tuesday afternoon, May 16, 2023 with a single cub (sex undetermined).
In total, 399 has birthed 8 litters in her lifetime. She has mothered a total of 18 bears.
Her official record comes via long-running Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team data, and, as Schwabedissen confirmed for Jackson Hole News & Guide early this AM, “She is now the oldest female grizzly bear to emerge with cubs of the year in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”
But so far as we know – and as worldwide data shows – she truly is the oldest wild bear mom out there. 399 has years ahead of her, too, if she plays her cards right. The oldest documented grizzlies in the GYE were either 30 or 31-years-old.
I will admit, I had grown worried. The condition of 399’s teeth has started to deteriorate; a sign of those “final years” for most brown bears. And as May rolled on, it felt less and less likely that she’d reemerge from her winter’s sleep. But 399 isn’t just any old bear, is she?
Here’s to many more healthy years for Grizzly 399 in the Grand Tetons. Welcome back, old girl.