Grizzly 399 Emerges from Hibernation  

With a cub in tow, internationally-famous bear turns up in national park

Grizzly 399, now the oldest documented wild grizzly mother, emerged this week with a single cub. In 2020, however, she wowed crowds when she emerged from hibernation with quadruplets. (Photo courtesy from Taylor Phillips)

By Melissa Thomasma

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The ursine matriarch known as 399 has been spotted in Grand Teton National Park with a single cub, making her the oldest known wild grizzly mother in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. She was seen near Pilgrim Creek on Tuesday.

Grizzly 399, pictured here on Tuesday afternoon, has a new cub — making her the oldest wild grizzly mother on record at the age of 27. (Photo Courtesy of CJ Adams, National Park Service)

At the age 0f 27, it wasn’t a sure thing that 399 would even survive the winter, let alone birth another litter of young. Over the years, she’s had eight litters of cubs; the most recent is her 18th offspring. Between 2020 and 2022, 399 nurtured quadruplets to maturity despite multiple run-ins with human attractants, including beehives, compost piles and unsecured trash.

The bruin’s appearance is “pretty exciting,” said Taylor Phillips, owner of Jackson Hole EcoTour Adventures and founder of the WYldlife For Tomorrow initiative. “Word travels fast within the wildlife-watching community.”

Though there’s no exact date on record of when 399 went into hibernation, grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem typically enter their dens in early December. Cubs, like the new one 399 has in tow this year, are born during hibernation and emerge alongside mothers in the spring.

Phillips first heard rumor of a grizzly sighting near 399’s historical denning area around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Her identity was confirmed the same afternoon by the park’s bear biologist, Justin Schwabedissen, public affairs officer Valerie Gohlke told the Wyoming Truth.

“Visitors were thrilled to see her and her cub-of-the-year yesterday,” Gohlke said.

“From an economical perspective, wildlife drives tourism across the state of Wyoming,” Phillips said. “During the spring months, it’s very well known that Grand Teton National Park is one of the best places to view grizzlies in the continental U.S.”

Enjoy from afar

Many guests on EcoTour Adventures’ wildlife safaris are eager to see bears in the wild, Phillips said. He understands that viewing a bear can be a transformational experience and believes that the connection forged by seeing 399 and her cub in the wild can bolster public support for conservation efforts. 

As both a guide and wildlife advocate, Phillips is quick to underscore the importance of safe conduct around all wild animals.

“It’s critical to give all animals their space,” he said. “The National Park Service requires that people stay 100 yards away from predators like grizzlies.” Phillips added that when a bear seeks to cross a roadway, it’s important for viewers to move vehicles, camera tripods — and themselves — out of the way. 

“Bear jams can be very problematic,” he said. “When lines of cars and people prevent animals from crossing roads, it is stressful to them and can cause conflict.”

What’s more, Phillips reminds hikers to hit the trails in groups of four or more, make plenty of noise and always carry bear spray. After all, you never know where and when 399 will appear.

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