Grizzly 399

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Grizzly 399
SpeciesU. arctos
Pilgrim Creek, Wyoming
Years active2005-Present
OffspringGrizzly 610, 16 total children and grandchildren
399 with her 4 cubs around 7:30pm June 19, 2020 near the river by Signal Mountain Lodge.

Grizzly 399 (born 1996) is a grizzly bear inhabiting Grand Teton National Park and Bridger-Teton National Forest. Grizzly 399 is the most famous grizzly bear mother in the world, with her own Facebook and Twitter accounts. She is followed by as many as 40 wildlife photographers, and millions of tourists come to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to see her and the other grizzly bears.


North American brown bears, popularly known as grizzly bears, are a subspecies U. arctos horribilis of the species U. arctos.[1] Several decades ago, grizzlies were assessed as being at risk of rapid extinction due to the rate at which the population was declining. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 has resulted in a population rebound: there are now approximately 2,000 bears in the United States, of which about half are estimated to live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Grizzlies are stereotyped as ferocious, but the typical bear avoids contact with humans, living away from settlements and attacking only to protect themselves when startled by a human.[2]

However, when bears become too habituated to human presence and become aggressive in their pursuit of human food, or when a bear attacks a human, the "problem bear" is typically euthanized. Grizzly mothers are known for being aggressively protective of their progeny. In 2011, in Yellowstone National Park, a mother bear fatally mauled a hiker who got too close. Also, Grizzly 610 (399's daughter) lunged at tourists two times who got too close, but no one was injured.

Grand Teton Wildlife Brigade[edit]

The Grand Teton Wildlife Brigade was created in 2007 when Grizzly 399 appeared with her 3 one-year-old cubs alongside the road and became an instant international celebrity, attracting travelers from all over. Their mandate is to keep the people and animals apart and keep both from harm.[3] Grand Teton ranger Kate Wilmot relates that the situation the citizen "brigaders" face has "gone from a somewhat chaotic atmosphere the last couple of years to a completely chaotic one now," as social media has increased the popularity of the bears, and drawn more people to want to interact with them. "My official title is 'bear management specialist,' but the real challenge is managing the behavior of people."

Wilmot is in charge of 16 volunteers in the brigaders who work in the summer until snowfall. "If the brigaders weren't there and wildlife watching were allowed to turn into a free-for-all, we'd have injured humans and bears, dangerous situations with motorists, and people throwing food out their car windows," says Wilmot. "It would be a mess."[3] The brigaders carry bear spray, but their primary role is to persuade tourists to maintain the 100-yard viewing guideline established after the incidents with Grizzly 610.

Another issue they have to deal with is stopping people from feeding bears. Feeding bears can cause them to become aggressive or result in having to euthanize a bear who will not stay out of the garbage. The brigade tries to remind tourists of the role they play in the bear's fate. The brigade's success can be measured in the rarity of major incidents and bear removals.[3]


Grizzly 399 is a grizzly bear who resides on Federal land in a range of hundreds of miles throughout the Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.[4][4] She was born in a den in Pilgrim Creek, Wyoming, in the winter of 1996, and given her name as a research number by the Yellowstone Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

At age 24, she is older than is usual for a grizzly, as "more than 85 percent of them are killed because of some kind of human activity before they reach old age".[2] She weighs almost 400 pounds (180 kg). When standing upright on her hind legs, she is 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m).[4] Unlike the typical grizzly, she lives in close proximity to humans, although she is not particularly concerned with them; scientists have speculated that this was in response to a death of a cub in a more remote area, perhaps killed by a male grizzly.[2] She has not killed a human despite at least two known close encounters, and so has also avoided euthanasia.[2]


She has reared many successful progeny, including 16 cubs and grandcubs.[4] In mid-May 2020 she was observed with four new cubs born the previous winter.[5] She has taught her offspring habits to benefit from rather than be harmed by human proximity, such as loitering during the fall elk hunt to consume abandoned elk guts, and looking both ways before crossing roadways to avoid being struck by vehicles, a common cause of death among bears.

Despite this, at least three of her cubs have been killed due to human encounters,[6] including Grizzly 399's only 2016 cub, nicknamed 'Snowy' because of his whitish-blonde face coloration. In June of that year, Snowy was struck and killed by a car in Grand Teton National Park, an incident investigated as a potential hit-and-run accident.[7][8] In all, she has lost half of her descendants, due to encounters with people or male bears.[9]


Unlike the typical bear, Grizzly 399 regularly gives birth to triplets rather than twins. This typically has a paradoxical effect on the bear population. A mother bear with three cubs expends significantly more energy in caring for them, which can potentially decrease rather than increase the survival rate. Grizzly 399, conversely, has typically handled triplets well.[2] One of her triplets grew to also be a prolific mother (thus far the only one of her cubs to also produce cubs) and was tagged for research as Grizzly 610.[4][6] In 2011, Grizzly 610 had twins while Grizzly 399 had another set of triplets. The scientists observing the bears were concerned due to 399's advanced age, but to their surprise Grizzly 610 amicably adopted one of her mother's triplets.[2]

Relationship with humans[edit]

Grizzly 399 is known for having become habituated to people when near roads and mildly developed areas. A researcher determined that she seeks these roadside areas over backcountry because it is safer for her cubs, where male bears often try to kill them.[6][9] The fact that she spends much time near roads has also contributed to her popularity. In 2011, the sight of a mother grizzly bear and her three cubs near a road in central Grand Teton National Park was enough to cause traffic to come to a halt in both directions for miles. Near Jackson Lake Lodge, just below it, in Willow Flats, Grizzly 399 taught each set of cubs to hunt elk calves. She did this where the guests of the lodge could see unhindered.[3][9]

Wildlife photographer Roger Hayden started following Grizzly 399 from the beginning. He says she is usually found along the roadside near the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River. The number of photographers now following this grizzly has grown to maybe 40 or 50 as of 2015. "399 is considered the grand matriarch of the park’s roadside bears." [10]

In 2016, Grizzly 399 was feared dead after a hunter claimed to have killed her. Photographer Bernie Scates staked out a spot in Pilgrim Creek and waited for her to appear. She was running late in coming out of hibernation. On May 10, 2016, Scates became the first to see 399 emerge from hibernation, with one cub in tow. She came forth from the Bridger-Teton National Forest into the Grand Teton National Park with a white-faced cub following at her side. This news was quickly shared and celebrated online.[11] In 2017, Grizzly 399 was older than the age beyond which most brown bears usually breed. But on May 16, 2017, she had two cubs following her in a spring snowstorm.[12]

Facebook account[edit]

By 2015, Grizzly 399 was known to have acquired a full social media presence, although it is a mystery who is running the accounts. She has her own Facebook page, Instagram account, and a Twitter handle.[9] "These aren't just any bears", explains Thomas D. Mangelsen, a global wildlife photographer who lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, "They might be the most famous grizzlies alive today on the planet. For all these people, catching a glimpse of them is the thrill of a lifetime." [3] Mangelsen has been following her movements for over ten years. Grizzly 399 dispels the stereotype that all grizzlies are agents of terror, says Bozeman, Montana, author Todd Wilkinson. "She’s more well-behaved a lot of times than people around her," he said. "But she’s wild", he adds.[9]

Books Written on Grizzly 399[edit]

"Grizzly 399" is a children's book published in May 2020 by award-winning publisher, Green Kids Club, Inc. of Idaho Falls. The book is written by Sylvia M. Medina, illustrated by Morgan Spicer and includes photographs by American nature and wildlife photographer, Thomas D. Mangelsen. The publisher announced the book's release and is planning on a second edition of the book to include Grizzly 399's new cubs in its story after the 24-year-old mother bear surprised the world with the birth of 4 more cubs in the Spring of 2020.

Endangered species protection of 399[edit]

In 2017, the United States Fish and Wildlife Services officials removed grizzly bears outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, from the endangered species list.[13] The government removed the protection in order to turn over management of the grizzlies to the states, who could open the bears up to trophy hunting. Grizzlies live in ranges covering hundreds of miles, which can take them outside the parks, where they would be open to hunting. Grizzly 399, for instance, dens outside of the parks.[14] The removal of protection came after the majority of more than 650,000 people submitted comments during the comment phase of the government process asking that the bears remain on the list and not be hunted.[15]

Hunting 399[edit]

Hunters in the area said they would target 399 because she is the biggest trophy, the most famous.[16] Daryl Hunter, a wildlife photographer who has been following Grizzly 399, related a conversation with an outfitter in which the guide said, "I met a guy who wants Grizzly 399's rug on his wall, stating that because she is famous, she makes a better trophy".[11] Grizzly 399 spends part of the year in Grand Teton National Park, but also hibernates in the national forest which is not part of any park. Big game hunting is allowed there, so that is likely where hunters would have targeted her.[17]

For the 2018 hunting season, Montana had decided against a hunt. Idaho, with the fewest grizzlies, decided to allow hunting of only one bear. On May 23, 2018, a Wyoming wildlife commission voted unanimously on an approval for a grizzly bear hunt.[14] The Wyoming Game and Fish Department let a vote decide the number of grizzlies to be killed. The tally came to 22 grizzlies in a unanimous vote of 7-0.[15] The hunting season was planned for September 15 to November 15. This was to be the first authorized hunt in Wyoming in 44 years when they were first listed as endangered in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1975, at which time no hunting was to be allowed inside the national parks or the connecting road between them,[14] when the grizzly population had fallen to around 136 individuals.[15]

Resisting the hunt[edit]

In 2018, Mangelsen helped fuel a movement that five women quickly organized called "Shoot'em With A Camera-Not A Gun." The object was to enlist people against trophy hunting to join the lottery for Wyoming's bear hunting licenses. The plan was to win a tag and keep it, so it would not be used to kill a bear. A tag would have authorized a hunter ten days in which to kill a bear, meaning that for each tag won by a photographer, no bear would be killed for ten days.[14] In Wyoming, approximately 7,000 people applied for bear tags. This list included Mangelsen and Jane Goodall, as well as many other well known conservationists.[15]

Restoration of protection[edit]

In July 2018, Mangelsen learned he was positioned high enough on a hunting lottery to actually receive a hunting tag,[15] but in September, just weeks before hunting season was to begin, a federal judge in Montana restored protection to all of the bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The judge ruled that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service officials were "arbitrary and capricious" when they removed protection from the bears under the Endangered Species Act.[18] In July 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Montana judge's ruling.[19]

Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek[edit]

In 2015, Thomas D. Mangelsen collaborated with Wilkinson to create the book Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, An Intimate Portrait of 399, The Most Famous Bear of Greater Yellowstone, about Grizzly 399 and her progeny.[20] Mangelsen made it one of his priorities for over ten years to record her life, including her hibernation schedule, feeding, and mothering; he recorded the birth of three sets of triplets and a set of twins. His photographs, especially the one he dubbed, "An Icon of Motherhood", helped make her the most famous mother grizzly, maybe the most famous grizzly, in the world.[16] Millions of people visit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem just to see these grizzly bears.[2][21]


  1. ^ "grizzly bear | Description, Habitat, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Szydlowski, Mike. "Grizzly Bear 399". Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e Wilkinson, Todd (August 28, 2011). "Bear '399': Brigade Keeps Peace". ABC News. Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek". Meet Grizzly 399. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  5. ^ Wilkinson, Todd (June 9, 2020). "'She still lives!' Famed Yellowstone bear emerges from winter – with cubs". The Guardian.
  6. ^ a b c "On the Death of Grizzly 760 and the Lessons of Grizzly 399's Clan". Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  7. ^ Wong, Julia Carrie (June 21, 2016). "Only cub of beloved grizzly bear killed by a car in Wyoming". The Guardian. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  8. ^ Wilkinson, Todd (June 20, 2016). "Famous Bear Cub Killed in Hit and Run in National Park". National Geographic News. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Recovery story told through star mama grizzly". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  10. ^ "The Legacy of Grizzly 399". Roger Hayden Photography. June 7, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Wilkinson, Todd (May 12, 2016). "Famous Grizzly Bear 'Back From the Dead'—With a New Cub". National Geographic News. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  12. ^ "Famous Grandma Grizzly Bear Has Twins at 21". National Geographic News. May 18, 2017. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  13. ^ "Feds remove Grizzly bears from protected list". NBC News. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  14. ^ a b c d Brulliard, Karin. "Yellowstone grizzly bears are off the endangered list; Wyoming says it's time to hunt them again". Chicago Tribune via Washington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  15. ^ a b c d e Wilkinson, Todd. "Bruin Lottery: Photographer Tom Mangelsen Scores A Wyoming Grizzly Tag". Mountain Journal. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  16. ^ a b "Into the wild with Thomas D. Mangelsen". 60 Minutes. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  17. ^ Wilkinson, Todd (May 24, 2018). "Yellowstone-Area Grizzly Bears to Be Hunted for First Time in Decades". National Geographic News. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  18. ^ "Judge reinstates federal protections for grizzly bears, blocks planned fall hunting season". USA Today. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  19. ^ Wilkinson, Todd. "Listed Again: Greater Yellowstone Grizzlies Federally Protected And Won't Be Trophy Hunted". Mountain Journal. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  20. ^ Pierce, Ben. "Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek: Book traces life history of famed bear 399". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  21. ^ "Fate of 22 grizzly bears up to judge's decision. Should trophy hunters be allowed to kill?". USA Today. Retrieved March 12, 2019.

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