I observed Grizzly #399 this spring in Grand Teton National Park; She was strolling her neighborhood with two playful and rowdy cubs.
# 399 was assigned to this female grizzly by researchers with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. In 2017, her age is/was estimated to be 21 years old. The average life span of a grizzly bear in the wild is 25 years (source: national geographic).
#399 is considered to be a "celebrity bear", and attracts large crowds of humans. Unfortunately for her, these humans and their loud and smelly transportation machines (cars, trucks, campers and motorcycles) often form an extended 'human chain' along roadways. Individual humans, seeking a good view of 399 and her cubs, collectively create a barrier which often inhibits her from crossing the belt of asphalt that bisects sections of her home territory.
Grizzly bears once roamed most of western North America, from the high plains to the Pacific coast. As humans moved west across the Great Plains, conflict with these bears increased. When Lewis and Clark traversed the western United States in the early 19th century, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 grizzlies roamed the land between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains. Captain Lewis and his party observed many grizzly bears on their travels.
On May 5, 1805, Lewis wrote,
“Capt. Clark and Drewyer killed the largest brown bear this evening which we have yet seen. it was a most tremendious looking anamal, and extreemly hard to kill notwithstanding he had five balls through his lungs and five others in various parts he swam more than half the distance across the river to a sandbar & it was at least twenty minutes before he died; he did not attempt to attact, but fled and made the most tremendous roaring from the moment he was shot. We had no means of weighing this monster; Capt. Clark thought he would weigh 500 lbs. he measured 8 Feet 7½ Inches from the nose to the extremety of the hind feet, 5 Feet. 10½ Inch arround the breast, 1 Feet. 11 I. arround the middle of the arm, & 3 Feet. 11 I. arround the neck; his tallons which were five in number on each foot were 4⅜ Inches in length. he was in good order, we therefore divided him among the party and made them boil the oil and put it in a cask for future uce; the oil is as hard as hogs lard when cool, much more so than that of the black bear. this bear differs from the common black bear in several respects; it's tallons are much longer and more blont, it's tale shorter, it's hair which is of a redish or bey brown, is longer thicker and finer than that of the black bear; his liver lungs and heart are much larger even in proportion with his size; the heart particularly was as large as that of a large Ox. his maw was also ten times the size of black bear, and was filled with flesh and fish. his testicles were pendant from the belly and placed four inches assunder in seperate bags or pouches.— this animal also feeds on roots and almost every species of wild fruit.”
Luckily, Captain Clark & Drewyer did not kill 399's great ancestors.
In the early 1900's, grizzly bears were eliminated from 90% of their original range. They were thought to be just too dangerous. Settlers and farmers viewed bears as potential competitors for most foods valued by humans, and their domesticated livestock. Unregulated killing of bears continued in most places through the 1950’s and resulted in a further 52% decline in their range between 1920 and 1970. (source: http://westernwildlife.org)
We now know, grizzly bears play an important role in keeping the whole natural system healthy.
Grizzly bears have many factors weighted against them. Some are killed or injured by fast-moving vehicles. Others are killed by humans in self-defense. If you plan a visit to Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks, give the wildlife lots of space. Drive slowly, especially at night. More than one hundred animals are typically killed each year by vehicles. Many other animals are injured.
If you hike the National Park trails, carry bear spray.
For more information on grizzly 399, check out the book "Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek", an extraordinary life and death celebration of famous Grizzly 399 by Thomas D. Mangelsen and Todd Wilkinson.