Griz 399 keeps cameras clicking

By on May 18, 2013

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The most famous grizzly bear in the world, known by her government-issued tag, was spotted recently with three more cubs-of-the-year (COY). For the bear known as “399,” it marks the sow’s third set of triplets.

While triplets are not a rarity in the grizzly bear world, it is unusual for all three cubs to survive to adulthood – which 399’s 2006 triplets did, producing the alt-celebrity Grizzly 610. The weathered old sow known as 399 is probably approaching 16 years old. The average life expectancy of a grizzly in the wild is about 20 years.

In fact, some have speculated 399’s age may have played a role in the bizarre event of 2011 that has biologists still scratching their heads. In mid-July 2011, 399 and her offspring 610, who had two cubs of her own in tow, ran into each other at Willow Flats. Observers did not notice any familiarity between mother and daughter but when the families separated one of 399’s cubs had joined 610’s family.

Griz 399 with her third set of triplets. (Thomas Mangelsen)

Griz 399 with her third set of triplets. (Thomas Mangelsen)

Biologists said the swap was rare but not unprecedented. They believe 399 may have instigated or allowed the adoption because 610 was younger and healthier, this better able to protect the cubs from aggressive male grizzlies, who run off or kill cubs in order to mate again with the sow. The two grizzly families bumped into each other numerous times that summer but 399’s adopted cub always remained with 610.

By 2012, 399 had lost her two remaining cubs. “Brownie” was believed hit and killed by a motorist on June 12. “Ash” disappeared and is presumed dead. The cubs were not old enough to fend for themselves. Sows usually wean their cubs in the third year.

Grizzly 399 first achieved fame in 2006 when she preferred to spend time raising her cubs in the close company of the park-going public. She could be frequently spotted near roadsides with her cubs. Many wildlife experts believe 399 knows exactly what she is doing by hanging out in more crowded public places. She may feel safer from boar attack in the presence of numerous camera-clad tourists than in the wilderness where larger male griz tend to stay.

Onlookers say 610 emerged from her den on April 8 with all three cubs, including the cub ‘borrowed’ from 399. She has since weaned the three-year-olds and will likely mate this season. She has preferred to raise her cubs near tourist hotspots as well, like her mother.

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