Taste for beef kills cub of grizzly 399

Grizzly 399 and her three cubs huddle together in May 2007 in Grand Teton National Park. Of the 2006 litter, it is believed that only bear 610 is still alive. Bear 615 was killed illegally by a hunter, and 587 was killed for repeatedly killing cattle. THOMAS D. MANGELSEN / COURTESY PHOTO

In the days before he was killed by wildlife managers, the cub of famous Teton grizzly 399 was doing what his mother taught him to do: kill easy-to-catch ungulates.

The problem was that bear No. 587 was killing cattle. Chronic livestock depredation was the cause of 587’s demise.

It was a trait the bruin exhibited beginning not long after he was pushed away by his mother in 2008.

When 587 went on a cattle-killing spree on a herd grazing in the Upper Green River drainage the first week of July, it was one episode too many, said Zack Turnbull, carnivore biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Pinedale office.

“He killed cattle in 2010, he killed sheep in 2010, he killed cattle in 2011,” Turnbull said. “He killed nine or 10 or more cattle in a three- or four-day period this year.”

As a cub growing up roadside in Grand Teton National Park, 587 watched his famous mother key in on the abundant, tasty elk calves during springtime. It’s that learned behavior, interestingly enough, that may have led to 587’s fatal taste for beef.

“From my understanding, that Upper Green River country has an abundance of elk,” said Steve Cain, chief biologist for Grand Teton park, “and the bears that go in there feed on the elk calves. As the elk calves become too old for bears to catch, the cattle come on with their calves. It’s a make-sense shift in the diet of the bears.”

Since June 30, two other grizzlies, both females killing livestock in the Green River drainage, have also been killed.

Grizzly 587 didn’t get into trouble because of run-ins with people, Cain said. In his two-plus years in the park, the bruin never raised a single red flag.

The year he split from his mother, 587 was trapped and moved. He loitered in the Pacific Creek subdivision, Game and Fish biologist Mike Boyce said.

“He was frequenting a residential area,” said Boyce, who conducted the relocation. “He spent a lot of time in the subdivision around homes.”

Residents of the neighborhood said 587 was guilty only of being there.

“The bear wasn’t doing anything wrong,” said Mike Lavin. “We see the bears all the time. We live right in the middle of their territory, in my opinion.”

One of Lavin’s neighbors, however, was new to the valley and was anxious about 587. That person contacted Game and Fish.

“They’re definitely afraid of bears, that particular neighbor,” Lavin said. “At that time they were fairly new to the neighborhood.”

After Boyce live-trapped 587, fitting him with a tracking collar, he dropped him off near Grassy Lake Road. Bear 587 stuck around the northern portion of Grand Teton, dropping his collar that fall on the west shore of Jackson Lake.

Fall 2008 was the last time wildlife photographer Diana Stratton took pictures of 587.

“The last time I saw him that last year he was feeding at a gut pile and another grizzly came up and he was just terrified,” Stratton said.

Stratton remembers 587 as not being at all afraid of people, but also not menacing. Once a photographer friend of hers got a little too close and was no worse for it.

“This person saw the bears coming up from the river,” Stratton said of her friend. “There were two of them. One was 587.

“The bears came out on the road right beside him, and just walked right by him,” she said. “They kind of looked at him a little bit, but that was it.”

After 2008, the bruin went out of sight for a couple years.

Bear 587’s next known encounter with people was in 2010, when a cowboy saw him killing a calf in the Tosi Creek area of the Upper Green. State biologists trapped him and dropped him back in the Pilgrim Creek drainage in Grand Teton, but he didn’t stick around.

The next year 587 again found himself in trouble with livestock, Turnbull said.

After the latest incident, much consideration went into the decision to kill 587, said Dan Thompson, Game and Fish large carnivore regional supervisor.

“We do everything we can to let bears be bears,” Thompson said. “It’s unfortunate.

“It’s the worst part of our job when we have to remove an animal from the population,” the biologist said. “This was what had to be done.”

Bear 587’s death raises questions about allowing bears to roam roadside areas and become used to people. In Glacier National Park, some bears are chased from roads by rangers.

Cain characterized the park’s current bear management, which tolerates roadside bears, as “an experiment.”

Of the six cubs from grizzly 399’s 2006 and 2011 litters, it’s likely that just two are still alive. One is bear 610, 587’s sister. The other is a 2-year-old cub that 610 “adopted” from her mother when it was a cub of the year.

Three of 587’s siblings are believed dead. His other sister, 615, was killed illegally by a hunter. Photographers believe the 2011 cub “Brownie” was the bear killed by a vehicle barreling off of Highway 89 last summer.

The other cub from the 2011 litter is suspected to be dead after it separated from its mother a year earlier than usual.

The state doesn’t like the idea of grizzlies becoming familiar with people.

“Habituation towards people and the roadside bear situation, it’s not something that we’re supportive of,” Thompson said. “It obviously shows that they may be more prone to getting in trouble in the future.”

Bears being habituated to humans and acquiring a taste for livestock are two different things, Cain said. No other “Grand Teton” bears are known to have been put down for killing cattle after leaving the park, he said.

“Clearly in the case of 587, this bear went on to become a wild bear,” Cain said. “The fact that he was a cattle killer had nothing to do with his upbringing.

“There’s no information or studies ... that connects a habituated, non food-rewarded bear with a higher tendency to kill cattle,” Cain said.

After trapping 587 on July 7, Turnbull did what he was ordered to do.

“Starting off a day off killing a grizzly bear is about the worst way you could start a day,” he said.

The body of 587 was transported to a Dubois taxidermist, where it was skinned in preparation for tanning.

Come next summer, 587 stands to once again be gawked at by thousands of tourists.

The mount of the bruin will go on display at the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, said Sharon Kahin, the museum’s executive director.

“I had asked Game and Fish to keep an eye out for us for a grizzly bear,” Kahin said. “They said it was a beautiful specimen.

“It’s a bear that Jackson Hole thinks of as their own,” Kahin said, “and it will be used for educational purposes.”

Bear 587 will be mounted alongside other animals that illustrate the interactions of Native Americans and the natural environment.

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