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Grizzly 399 And Cub—An Update From Jackson Hole

At Summer Solstice and more than a month out of the den, 399 has devoted much time, Thomas Mangelsen says, to helping her cub understand the joy of play

Essay and Photos by Tom Mangelsen

Who says a mother doesn't love her children, wouldn't do anything to give them a better life, wouldn't ardently care for them, protect them from harm, feed them, teach them and prepare them for their own journey in life?

What kind of fool would argue that Grizzly 399 is not remarkable, doesn't possess keen insight into the world around her and doesn't readily demonstrate intelligence and emanate emotions—something known to those who study animals as sentience

Anyone who has watched her knows those same attributes have existed in her cubs. What kind of person would suggest killing bears like her for fun or sport makes any kind of sense? 

It’s been a month since I returned from Europe and unfortunately, while there, I missed the re-emergence of Grizzly 399 by just hours in May.

Back here in the Tetons, I’ve been searching for her and her new cub pretty much every day, all day, except for a few days recovering from my third bout of Covid. Although I have seen 399 and cub half a dozen times, most were brief sightings and at long distances too far away to photograph.
What is 399's cub trying to tell its mother or is it a game of peekaboo?
What is 399's cub trying to tell its mother or is it a game of peekaboo?
The day before yesterday I watched her cross Pilgrim Creek and head downriver to her favorite swimming hole. It was a warm afternoon as she eased into the three-foot-deep cold meltwater pool. The cub wanted to join her but the water was too fast. It was a sweet scene as she swatted the water with her giant paws, snorkled and then thrashed her head back and forth spraying and soaking the cub. The little one jumped around much like we did when we were kids splashing each other at the pool or lake.

One noticeable behavior I’ve observed is when 399 only has a single cub, like Snowy before and now this one, she spent a lot of time playing and wrestling with her lone offspring. Seven years ago, on an early June evening just before the Summer Solstice, Snowy was struck by a hit and run driver and left to die in the middle of US Highway 89 in Grand Teton National Park.

Frantically, 399 wailed and bawled as any grieving mother would. She dragged Snowy off the pavement using her mouth. She remained by her infant's side and refused to move, as if waiting, hoping the cub would wake up. Rangers had to temporarily haze 399 away, and extract the mortally wounded cub because they feared 399 too might get hit by a vehicle.

It was a sad day—and a reminder for all motorists to slow down, keep your eyes on the road, and pay attention. 

If you are one of those who steadfastly condemn anthropomorphizing—ascribing human characteristics to animal behavior—then how would you explain the nurturing ways of 399 that has been witnessed by thousands upon thousands of people—millions around the world in pictures taken by lots of people as she has interacted with her cubs over the years?
Is that a smile on 399's face as her cub mimics being a full-grown grizzly trying to scare its mother with infant growls?
Is that a smile on 399's face as her cub mimics being a full-grown grizzly trying to scare its mother with infant growls?
This year, 399 is giving her single cub a lot of undivided attention. When there were siblings, the quads and previous triplets, they played together and 399 engaged her cubs much less. It’s as if, like humans, she realizes the act of playing is important in many ways to the health and well-being of her young. Also, she appears to really enjoy playing. 

Both 399 and the cub look very healthy, and the cub is growing quickly. Of course, it helps when the cub doesn’t have to compete at the nursing table with siblings. It is very animated and liked attacking mom in the butt or head on. The sex isn’t determined yet, nor has a nickname been bestowed, but I like the spirit, thus am going to refer to it as Spirit myself.

After spending nearly all of the last week in one place, the picture of wildness and sentience came together at Pilgrim Flats. The blooming balsamroot and biscuitroot were at their peak and mixed with a variety of purple larkspur. After spending much of the past few days hunting newborn elk calves in the forest around Pilgrim Creek and through the meadow filled with a kaleidoscope of summertime wildflowers. Spirit raced in front of mom like a wild child. She ran back and forth, and tackling 399’s face, knowing that mother and her giant teeth were what would always protect her. It was just one more moment of 399’s magic.
Do bear cubs giggle with delight when their mother tickles them? An observer would be hard-pressed to interpret the gentle rough-housing of 399 and the verbalizations coming out of her cub any other way.
Do bear cubs giggle with delight when their mother tickles them? An observer would be hard-pressed to interpret the gentle rough-housing of 399 and the verbalizations coming out of her cub any other way.
More recently, she availed herself for another motherly moment. After an afternoon spent teaching the cub how to forage, 399 laid on her back and her cub crawled on top of her belly, suckling mother’s milk and finding comfort—a vulnerable cub feeling the protection of a vulnerable mother.

Throughout Greater Yellowstone there are reports of grizzlies being killed through “mistaken identity” by spring black bear hunters. Why we allow the sport hunting of bears at all is something I don’t understand, but especially in spring when the death of a mother will leave cubs orphaned and doomed to die. 

I would challenge anyone who hunts to spend time in the company of 399, watching her demonstrate a motherly love that is admirable.. And tell me, what is the purpose of turning animals like these into stuffed dead trophies? I’ve not heard one compelling explanation yet. Hunting grizzlies isn’t management. It’s killing extraordinary animals for no good reason.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Do you believe 399's cub should have a nickname? Do you agree with Mangelsen that sport hunting of Greater Yellowstone grizzlies should not happen if they are removed from federal protection? Or do you think grizzly hunting should be brought back? Tell us what you think. Drop us a note by clicking here and we may publish your comment below. Whatever you write, keep it respectful and on point to the questions above. From now until August 1, whenever a reader comments on a Mountain Journal story and we publish it, that person will become eligible for winning a signed copy, in a special drawing, of either Ripple Effects: How to Save Yellowstone and America's Most Iconic Wildlife Ecosystem or the forthcoming Grizzly 399: The World's Most Famous Mother Bear. 

MoJo Readers Respond

I agree with Mangelson, why there is a spring bear hunting season is a real mystery. Leaving a cub to starve to death or get hit by a speeding motorist is beyond me. Recently you published an article about dogs in parks. I don't think humans should be allowed in parks, much less dogs. But since that is never going to happen, there needs to be areas in parks that ARE closed to humans. I'm 70 now, when I was a kid, my parents took us to parks. Big trip from Arizona to Virginia one summer and we hit a lot  of parks, before it was the thing to do. Our dog didn't come. We sailed on Jenny Lake, walked through the Giant Sequoias, fished in little creeks, slept in tents. I can't imagine being able to do it now without being run over by the millions of tourists who visit the parks these days. I think mama 399 plays with her single cub, Spirit, because she finally has the time and energy. What a bear.

Kathy Spitler


I absolutely agree that grizzly hunting should not be permitted. These bears are a valued treasured and should be treated as such. My husband is a hunter and I would never want him to hunt a grizzly. I cannot imagine killing a sow with cubs and simply leaving those cubs defenseless to die.

Jennifer Lewis


A note to Tom Mangelsen: Thanks for your advocacy and artistry on behalf of 399 and bears in the Greater Yellowstone. There are so many things to photograph here. Thanks for focusing your talent on bear conservation.

 I do not believe any hunting of any bear should be allowed anywhere/state for any reason. I also do not think it should be legal to bait any animal for any reason. 
I am against huntung altogether.

Wyoming killing animals that hunt because the elk population died during the winter is also wrong. Do not give out hunting licenses for the next 10 years. Let the herd recover. 
That would be like someone walking up to you house and killing/hunting someone just to show you can kill.

If they increase the fines for people harassing animals to 10,000 for each offense even if it is in the same time period. Example you get out of your car to chase a bear. First offense growling and threating the animal. Second offense starting to chase. The third offense chasing the animal. The person in the car filming should also face a 10,000 fine. Whether it be a bear, elk, moose, bison, fox, wolf, etc. This would support the national park and the small towns surrounding them. Then hunting would not be needed or used as an excuse from the state needing money.

People who say they killed a bear by mistake they should have to prove it. How can you mistake a bear, seriously. They should never be allowed to hunt again. If a bear attacks you maybe they have cubs near by. You are in their world you take the risk. Deal with the consequences. Killing an animal because they defended themselves against a human is also wrong. 

People need to realize you do not own the planet. Animals were her before us. You have no right to their land. Farmers need to protect there stock with better fencing that wildlife can not enter and will not harm any animal.

Tabetha Collins


I hope the bears stay protected and hunting is not allowed.

Jenn Cunningham


In today's times theres really no need for hunting. There's plenty of food to be had. All hunting has become just a sport. No animals have a chance to grow old. Whether dangers from cars highways hunters people building more houses in there habitats pushing them out it sad. The generations of today only think of themselves. No one cares about the beauty of these animals or their plight. Glad to see there are still a few of us that try to help them as best we can and hopefully they can continue to be free.

Sheryl Yeretsian


I don't understand why any one would want to kill something so majestic. Human kind is so heartless. Leaving babies to die such a terrible death as starvation.
I feel just sick when they talk about killing more bears and mountain lions.  If man would leave things alone and allow nature to care for itself, it would do an amazing job. Only when man interferes does everything suffer. You would think they would have learned this from all the years of screwing things up. Nature knows best—everything runs as intended if left alone.

Dyana Davis


I can't fathom a reason to ever kill a grizzly. They are truly one of God's greatest creations. God condemns anyone who hunts for sport. He calls such people mighty (joke) hunters in opposition to God, like Nimrod. I believe anyone who violates this is truly devoid of the intellect to understand the meaning of sacred things. Grizzlies need and deserve our respect, protection, admiration. They should always stay under Endangered Species Act. No grizzly should ever be murdered for killing a cow. No cows should ever be allowed to graze on grizzly habitat. These sentient creatures deserve to live in peace. Future generations deserve to be able to view them in the wild and be filled with awe at the most iconic creature that will ever grace our lands.

Joey Lindsey


No bears should be hunted, particularly in spring when black bears and grizzlies have cubs.

Leslie Woods


No, do not allow bear hunting. Mother nature can take care of her own. It's crazy to kill beautiful animals to put on a wall. Absolutely senseless.

Doris Becht


God created the earth and on the sixth day he created all animals and commanded them to multiply and replenish the earth. I am not in favor of killing any bears. I am from southern Oregon and have been to Yellowstone Park many times and Yellowstone Bear World. I have only seen one grizzly bear at Yellowstone Park from a distance and what a magnificent animal to watch. At Bear World my favorite time to visit is in the late spring to watch and observe the bear cubs. I have talked with the staff about the bears and over the years have learned a lot. Thank you for sharing about 399 over the years. She is magnificent and as one mom to another “kudos on a job well done."

Tammy Cesena
PS: Being Native American I suggest the cub be named. Eli (Spirit, life spirit)


I do not think any type of bear or wolves should be hunted. I do not understand the cruelty of hunting animals you do not eat. 

Elaine Poole-Napp


My 2 cents for what its worth: I think all hunting is wrong, unless you plan on eating the animal you killed to feed yourself and your family.

I am particularly upset with bears, wolves, any and all other wild animals being killed mistakenly or killed by a car, etc by a too fast, inattentive driver or any other way. That person should be fined and even do community work.

All wild animals should be given space to live, procreate, thrive, just like we are doing for ourselves. Corridors need to be created, spaces where man/woman/child/dogs/cattle, etc are not allowed, more education regarding living closer to wild animals and allowing them to live near by. Young people need to be educated from an early age to respect all life and realize we are all a part of the living world, with no hierarchy.

I think secular Buddhist should be taught to all grade school children or a spiritual practice similar to that, ie Indigenous culture practices, etc.

Vicki Wren


399, all bears, too precious to kill.

Lin Pullman


I just want to thank you so much, Mountain Journal, for being a voice for wildlife and a watchdog for conservation in the Greater Yellowstone area.

I wholeheartedly agree with Tom Mangelsen in his recent article about 399 and the futility and ignorance of bear hunting. I pray saner minds will prevail with this issue.  Thank you for caring and being a voice for wildlife!

Leslie Rohrkaste


End hunting of all bears

Ken Johnson

Thomas D. Mangelsen
About Thomas D. Mangelsen

Thomas D. Mangelsen, who makes his home near Moose, Wyoming inside Grand Teton National Park, is one of the best-known nature photographers in the world.  From celebrating polar bears to tigers in India; from  elephants, rhinos, and lions in Africa, to jaguars, cougars, other mammals and birds in North America, he is heralded for using photography to build public support for wildlife conservation. Mangelsen has won many awards and collaborated with journalist Todd Wilkinson on Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, An Intimate Portrait of 399 published in 2015 and the forthcoming sequel, Grizzly 399: The World's Most Famous Mother Bear coming out in August 2023. 
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