Yellowstone’s “Grand Old Man,” a beloved grizzly bear, was shot and killed outside the park late last year, government officials have confirmed.
— GhostBearPhotography (@GhostBearPhoto) April 25, 2016
Last week, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the 25-year-old grizzly bear, classified as No. 211 by researchers, was killed in the Little Trail Creek drainage north of Gardiner, Montana, in the Gallatin National Forest. Tourists and photographers had affectionately dubbed the bear “Scarface” due to the distinctive scars on the right side of his face, likely evidence of fights with other male grizzlies over food or mates.
According to photographer Sandy Sisti, over the last three decades Scarface had been observed in “almost every corner of the park,” favoring the meadows and slopes surrounding Mount Washburn in particular.
First collared at three-years-old in 1993, the grizzly was monitored by researchers for most of his life. Though collars naturally fall off after a number of years, Scarface managed to get himself captured by scientists 16 subsequent times (he was not very good at avoiding traps). This has led to Scarface becoming, almost accidentally, one of the most studied bears in the wild.
“Wherever we set traps, he seems to find them,” Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone bear management program leader, said in 2015.
Through blood and hair samples, researchers later learned that Scarface had fathered at least three offspring during his lifetime, including another famous Yellowstone grizzly, No. 665, or “Dunraven sow.”
In recent years, researchers had noticed a significant weight drop in the old grizzly from 597 pounds in his prime to 338 pounds in August 2015, which is typical for his age. Gunther told the Seattle Times that he did not expect No. 211 to last through the spring of 2016.
Gunther was right – except the bear did not die from natural causes. Because grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the fact that Scarface was shot is grounds for a USFWS investigation.
Grizzlies were declared threatened in 1970 after hunting sent the population plummeting below 150. Since receiving protection status, the population increased five-fold – high enough that USFWS recently proposed removing grizzlies from the endangered species list.
“The recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly bear represents a historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation under the Endangered Species Act,” service director Dan Ashe said in March. “Our proposal today underscores and celebrates more than 30 years of collaboration with our trusted federal, state and tribal partners to address the unique habitat challenges of grizzlies.”
Since the death of Scarface, photographer Simon Jackson has called on the public to oppose the de-listing of grizzlies from federal protection.
“Urgently, in the United States, plans are moving ahead to delist the great bear from the endangered species list and those plans will lead to trophy hunting a population that is genetically isolated and, clearly, still susceptible to conflicts with people,” Jackson wrote on his blog. “Please, if you choose to do anything to honour Scarface, choose to make your voice heard by May 10th to stop the de-listing of grizzlies in the Lower 48.”
Update 5/4/16: Planet Experts contacted Simon Jackson for permission to use the photographs used in this article and our Scarface memorial gallery. When asked for comment, Mr. Jackson had this to say:
“Scarface was a wonderful bear – a true gentle giant. He did more to breakdown negative stereotypes of bears and inspire individuals to care for nature than any bear in the world, I think. He was always so tolerant of people, even when they pushed him. Scarface taught us, if we were willing to learn, how people and bears could coexist. The fact that, in the end, a person took his life – after all the benefit of the doubt he gave humankind – really is the ultimate act of betrayal. It breaks my heart.”