A record 59 grizzly bears died in the Yellowstone ecosystem in 2015, most of them after conflicts with hunters and livestock growers. And yet, one bear, a female called 399, has shown a remarkable ability to survive interactions with humans without getting herself into trouble. If 399 emerges from her den next spring, she’ll be 20 years old.
According to journalist Todd Wilkinson “399, because she’s been so accessible, has become the most famous and widely-recognized bear on earth.”
Wilkinson is the author of Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek: An Intimate Portrait of 399. The book is coffee-table-sized and includes dozens of gorgeous images captured by Wyoming naturalist-photographer Thomas Mangleson. Wilkinson, says Mangleson had to work hard for those images.
“The only way that you can amass a portfolio like this,” says Wilkinson, “is spending months of every year rising before sun rise, staying out until past dusk, trailing these bears, but not getting too close, because he’s an ethical wildlife photographer. But he also had this network of people wired. So whenever sightings would occur of either 399 or her daughter, 610, Mangelson would know where to go and then provide a stake-out in order to see the bears.”
Three-ninety-nine’s intelligence is legendary. Not only has she managed to stay alive for nearly two decades, but she has taught her cubs what she knows about avoiding trouble with humans.