Photos indicate dead bear likely 'Brownie'
Grizzly’s identity still not confirmed, but a photographer makes a convincing case.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
June 27, 2012
It’s increasingly looking like the bear hit and killed by a car in Grand Teton National Park last week is “Brownie,” the yearling male cub of the 16-year-old female grizzly known as “399.”
After viewing a photograph of the bruin’s carcass, wildlife photographer Tom Mangelesen said he’s “98 percent certain” the grizzly bear killed is in fact Brownie. Mangelsen has photographed the famous bear cub, along with his female sibling “Ash,” on dozens and dozens of occasions.
The bear presumed to be Brownie was killed June 21, by a 29-year-old Pennsylvania man who was headed north on Highway 26/89/191 near the Snake River Overlook. The driver suffered minor injuries in the crash.
While the Pennsylvania man was headed northbound, an unidentified southbound vehicle swerved slightly to avoid the bear, which was standing on the shoulder.
This caused the Pennsylvania driver to swerve, and then overcorrect and careen off the west side of the highway.
“At some point while it was traveling through the sagebrush, the vehicle impacted the bear,” Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said Friday.
A park investigation determined that speed was not a factor in the crash.
Since she began raising cubs along the road in 2006, 399 has become popular with park wildlife viewers.
Bear 399’s year-old cubs separated from their mother in May, one year earlier than usual.
In the weeks following the split, the cubs traveled both independently and in tandem. Most recently they were sticking close together near Windy Point south of Taggart Lake, Mangelsen said.
In the days since Thursday’s crash, neither cub has been seen regularly.
“I heard of two reports from colleagues and friends that saw [399's other yearling cub] Ash briefly,” Mangelsen said. “Since nobody saw them together, I thought it was probably likely that [the dead bear] was indeed Brownie.”
Mangelsen acquired a photo of the dead bear Tuesday, which is what he said ultimately convinced him.
“There’s light-colored banding on neck, rump and shoulder,” he said while reviewing images of the live and dead bear side by side. “A really black tail. It’s pretty indicative.
“I was hoping there would be something different,” Mangelsen said, “but there’s nothing here that indicates the bear isn’t one and the same.”
An analysis by park biologists determined that the bear in question was about 130 pounds and of average health, Skaggs said.
Grand Teton has submitted samples to an outside laboratory for a DNA analysis that will settle whether the yearling is related to 399.
The analysis could take week or even months to complete, Skaggs said.
“I don’t think the DNA’s going to tell you anything different, but I hope I’m wrong,” Mangelsen said.
A park biologist was unable to comment Tuesday on the likelihood that Ash, the remaining and now solo cub of 399, can survive on her own.
Mangelsen wasn’t optimistic about her chances.
“He was the more adventuresome and a bit larger than Ash,” he said. “He probably was in better shape to kill elk calves. The two of them probably would have done just fine. Without him, it’ll be tough.”