In the days leading up to a memorial gathering at dawn Tuesday at Jackson Lake, Richard Spratley retraced the route traveled by the famous grizzly bear known as “760” in its last days.
A Boulder, Colorado, resident, Spratley shared his story before two dozen others who gathered at Colter Bay. In the preceding days he had traveled to the Shoshone River and Clark, following the grizzly’s path before the bruin was killed in October for being too quick to hang around people.
“I actually went to the last place I’d photographed him as well, and we had a very intimate moment,” Spratley said. “I spent a good hour with him, just him and me, and it was one of the most magical moments of my life.”
The photographer’s voice was shaky. Tears were shed.
“This should never happen again, ever,” Spratley said. “Game and Fish can’t do this, ever again. Not to a good bear like that. He was as gentle a soul as you’d ever want to know.”
The lakeshore gathering was a testimony to the intense passion people can develop for wildlife, and in particular the roadside grizzly bears of Grand Teton National Park.
Tuesday morning the emotions were being directed at grizzly 760, a descendant of grizzly 399 and 610 that a year ago was among the most consistently visible bruins in the park. After being relocated from near the Aspens subdivision by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 760 wandered north from the South Fork of the Shoshone River to the plains east of Yellowstone near Clark. Wildlife managers killed the 4-year-old bear after it repeatedly showed little fear of humans and pulled a hunter’s deer out of a tree.
After receiving word, photographers and wildlife watchers mourned and protested. In the process, they created still-active Facebook pages and an online petition that’s attracted more than 166,000 signatures.
Wilson resident Cindy Campbell organized the sunrise memorial gathering, which attracted two dozen people from as far away as Illinois, Michigan and the Pacific Northwest.
“What a glorious day in the land of giants,” Campbell said in welcoming the group. “Thank you for joining us as we come together to honor the precious life of bear 760 and in quiet reflection release his spirit from the Earth.”
Facing each other in a circle, attendees shared their thoughts about the dead grizzly, then tossed pebbles into Jackson Lake.
Nandia Black, from Kildeer, Illinois, ventured all the way to the Tetons having heard of the bear only because of the online petition.
“I never met 760, but I feel like I know him through your love,” Black told the group.
The memorial also included a reading of the poem, “7 Stars for 7 Bears.”
“We are blessed by bear ambassadors,” poet Lyn Dalebout read. “Fierce love and protection inhabits their souls.”
Memorial cards and stickers were distributed, and after the reading of a parting quote from “Winnie the Pooh” the group headed off for breakfast.
While it was a farewell to grizzly 760, the sunrise gathering did not mark the end of Campbell’s efforts to memorialize the bear.
“I have dreams — I want a children’s book, I want a memorial in the park for 760,” she said. “This isn’t going away. I want to find a way to keep him in Grand Teton National Park.”