Grizzly Bear Was Oldest Documented in Yellowstone History, Put Down at 34-Years-Old

by Matthew Wilson
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He lived and died free and wild. This grizzly bear was the oldest documented bear of its species to live in Yellowstone National Park. At 34-years-old, Grizzly 168 lived to the ripe age of 34-years-old, longer than many of his fellow bears.

The bear was found by researchers in the park after attacking a series of cattle. By this point in his life, the grizzly was a shell of his former self. Missing almost all of its teeth and also underweight, the bear had been surviving by attacking cattle of nearby ranchers. Researchers were also shocked to discover how old the creature was.

“He was like, ‘Hey, ah, how old do bears live?’” Dan Thompson, a carnivore biologist, told The Casper Star Tribue. “We started talking about it, and he’s like, ‘I am sure that this bear I have, based on everything I can find, is 34 years old.’”

When researchers capture a bear, they put a tracking number on the bear’s gums. This allows them to document and keep track of the species’ population over the years. These days the tattooed numbers on the animal go up into the thousands. But this grizzly was labeled No. 168. Researchers were able to trace its birth date to the 1980s and its age.

“He was born in 1986,” Thompson said. “That’s pretty wild to think about. I think I was in junior high. I know it was the year before [Guns N’ Roses’] Appetite for Destruction came out.”

Over the course of its life, the bear had four encounters with researchers in Yellowstone. The first was in 1989 when it was only three years old. It was caught in drainage to a creek and assigned its tattoo. They also gave the bear a “very high frequency” tracking collar to locate the bear’s movement.

Researchers Put Down the Grizzly

In 1997 after being captured and also monitored for the third time, the bear managed to remove its tracking collar and lived the rest of its adult life out in the wild. Researchers estimated that the bear probably sired two litters of cubs as it reached an advanced age in the 2000s.

Now an old man in many aspects, researchers brought the animal in to examine it. Unfortunately, the grizzly lacked the means to survive in the wild again if researchers released it. Deciding against caging the animal late in life, they decided to euthanize the bear allowing it a quick and also peaceful death.

“It was sad that we had to put him down,” Thompson said, “but ethically there was nothing else that could be done.”

There may be bears even older in Yellowstone that the researchers haven’t documented.

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