Within the first few hours of grizzly bear 399’s inaugural 2019 public appearance, photographer Tom Mangelsen caught a glimpse of one of her cubs somersaulting through the snow down a steep hillside.

Although the famous sow bruin didn’t quite engage in those acrobatics, she also didn’t shy away from playfully engaging her two youngsters, now 2 years old and likely in their last summer with mom.

“She was going up to them and licking them and sniffing them,” Mangelsen said. “They’re seriously like three kids, running around and playing.”

Now 23 years old — bona fide senior citizen territory for a grizzly — bear 399 was spotted Wednesday for the first time this year, descending from her Teton Wilderness den site, reportedly taking advantage of a compacted snow path left behind by a snowmobile on Pilgrim Creek Road. Word of her whereabouts spread quickly, and by midafternoon videos and photos flooded social media celebrating the return of a grizzly bear that has been reliably visible in Grand Teton National Park for 12 straight years.

“The Queen is alive and well!” photographer Jack Bayles posted to Facebook, captioning a widely shared clip of the bear family.

Bear 399’s emergence coincided with what park spokeswoman Denise Germann described as the onset of the ordinary busy season for grizzly viewing in Teton Park. The first reported Jackson Hole grizzly sighting came over a month ago, when warden Kyle Lash snapped a pic of a bruin on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, but until now activity has been minimal.

“We’re just starting to see more bears out and active and visible,” Germann said. “That’s just beginning.”

The volunteer-based “wildlife brigade” is also out to help enforce viewing rules, she said, which include not parking in the middle of the road and getting no closer than 100 yards to bears and wolves.

Staying beyond that distance was not a challenge for Moran resident Trish Lavin, who on Thursday watched 399 and her cubs saunter over a very frozen Jackson Lake on her way to Elk Island. Using optics, she took in the show from Signal Mountain.

“The last word I had is that she crossed the lake again,” she said, “heading toward Spalding Bay.”

When she’s been visible, Lavin said, grizzly 399 has had her head down and been on the move. Although fleeting, she’s cherished the moments.

“I love the bears, and it’s always exciting to see them,” Lavin said. “We’re really fortunate. They’re beautiful animals.”

Grand Teton’s faithful wildlife watchers are also eagerly awaiting the possible return of grizzly 610. Born to 399 in 2006, grizzly 610, like her mother, learned to make use of roadside habitat in the park, a behavior that enabled their rise to fame. But after a 12-year run in her ordinary haunts, last summer there were no confirmed sightings of 610, which lacked a GPS tracking collar. It’s all speculation, Mangelsen said, but there are a couple prevailing theories.

“The optimistic spin is that she could have had cubs and stayed in the high country,” Mangelsen said. “The pessimistic spin is she probably got shot. My thoughts are that if she doesn’t show up this year with new cubs or cubs from last year, then she’s gone.”

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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(7) comments

Carissa Carter

We are from little old New Zealand and just returned from an amazing four week vacation in the USA. Part of that visit was Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. We saw Grizzly 399!!!! and her cubs. The location to us is a bit sketchy, but I would say an hour south of Old Faithful if that helps across an open meadow on the right facing North. We saw heaps of cars pulled over taking photos and using scopes, so we found the last park available, got our scope out and what a sight to behold. An elderly husband and wife turned up and said to me "that is 399". I had no idea what she was talking about. She said "it's not Blondie". They had been here the day before and she was not here. We were sooooooooooooooooooooo excited. We saw three grizzlies within two days between Grand Teton and Cooke City, a black bear and her cubs near the Petrified Tree area/Grand Junction and a Brown Bear about 15 minutes north of Teton Village up on a hill grazing. Wow wow wow. We have nothing but possums in New Zealand ha ha ha. Go 399! you beautiful girl. Stay safe kids.


I'll guess that bears are no more anamoured with paparazzi than humans are. "Just wake up again and every idle human in the Tetons is chasing after us.". To a bear every barrel lensed camera looks no different than gun with a big scope. Their sharp ears hear the click and it's, "Let's go kids, I think I heard him release the safety.". Here's to the nature lovers who want to turn the west into their private zoo, and run down animals like a .... Hunter would.

Bill Baehr

It's sad that the NPS habituates the bears to people with the Wildlife Brigade. The Wildlife Brigade should be training the bears to fear people and run when they see a person in order to protect the bears and the people, Some training like this http://www.bearsmart.com/managing-bears/non-lethal/training/ could save bear and human lives.

Ken Chison

These bears are all but ruined Bill. It's utterly disgusting to see how these wildlife harassers act around them. Then, they are the first to cry foul when the bears are put down. Food rewards, just to get that perfect shot. GTNP and Yellowstone have a terrible people problem. The Park service needs to seriously consider no private vehicles being allowed into the parks. Buses only and only stop in designated turnouts. I realize a few local "photographers" might starve, but maybe they can contract out their expertise,on bears, to Nat Geo.

Ken Chison

Wow. I didn't know Tom was such a bear expert. 610 was probably shot, he states. Yes Tom. We know that there are is no other way that she died but by being shot. And to think all this expertise comes from only having to venture a few hundred feet off the roadways for your prized pics. I'm sure all those moose slaughtered on the hiways towards the village were probably shot too. Right?

Jay Westemeier

Kind of like the wolf and bear haters claiming that all of the elk and moose deaths are due to predation. Although his opinion is obviously biased, I'd place Tom Mangelsen's experience and knowledge of Grand Teton's Grizzly behavior and movement above any big game trophy hunter's or Jackson Hole guide's.

Chad guenter

Ken, some bigots cant help themselves when it come to spewing ignorance. Mangelsen is no different.

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