A grizzly bear trapped by Wyoming Game and Fish Department for monitoring purposes exhibits all the traits that make the species revered and feared. This bear recovered safely from sedation before returning to its haunts. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Wyoming Game and Fish department staff discovered a dead grizzly bear in one of the agency’s baited traps early Sept. 30 — a first-of-its-kind capture-related fatality that nevertheless sparked dismay among conservations and other bear advocates.

A diagnostic report based on a necropsy obtained by WyoFile stated that the bear died after suffering capture myopathy, a condition during which animals become extremely exhausted.  

Trappers found the 326-pound, approximately 7-year-old male grizzly dead in a box trap at the Shoshone Lodge outside the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

A cell phone photo of the dead grizzly bear taken by a lodge employee. (Bob Nevens)

Case coordinator Todd Cornish with the Wyoming State Veterinarian Laboratory found congestion in the lungs, swelling caused by blood leaking from vessels and “peripheral emphysema,” according to a summary of a necropsy performed in Laramie. He also noted “acute (skeletal) degenerative myopathy,” or exhaustion similar to what would be found from overheating.

Cornish also found damaged tissues that “suggest significant struggle in the culvert trap,” a diagnostic report reads. 

Game and Fish said the death was extremely rare, the first of its type witnessed in more than 1,573 box- or culvert-style trappings, according to an internal Game and Fish email obtained by WyoFile.

The incident mars an otherwise upbeat report that shows a reduction in grizzly conflicts and deaths last year.

Protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, Wyoming grizzlies are overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with considerable help from and coordination with Wyoming Game and Fish Department. About 700 live in the core Yellowstone-Grand Teton area and surrounding national forests, but more dwell outside that zone as well.

 S’more-snacking bear

The bear scarfed s’mores from the lodge site Sept. 26, according to Game and Fish records. It returned the next two nights and boldly approached people. 

Lodge personnel used a pickup truck to chase it off the third night it was on the site, a report said. Game and Fish set the baited box trap Sept 29 and caught the bear that night or early the next morning. Most first-offending bears are moved and set free.

A guest at the lodge during the incident questioned Game and Fish actions and investigation. Bob Nevens remains unsatisfied with the outcome of the incident, even after several conversations with state officials and reviews of lab reports.

Wildlife managers did not treat the incident nonchalantly, Game and Fish’s large carnivore section supervisor Dan Thompson said. Regardless of how many times wildlife managers catch and relocate grizzlies or handle other wildlife, “it’s always with absolute respect and ethics for that animal,” he said. “We dedicate our lives to taking care of wildlife.”

“Something doesn’t look right,” however, Nevens told WyoFile in a telephone interview from his home in Tennessee. He saw and photographed the box trap the day it was set and said there were no signs warning people to stay away from it.

Game and Fish notified the lodge and guests of the operation in advance and some of them watched trappers set up the capture device, Thompson said. “We warned them to stay away,” he said. “We made sure to talk to the lodge and the people who run the lodge,” employees and owners who are well versed in grizzly bear behavior, he said.

The next morning, Nevens learned that lodge employees saw the bear alive in the trap at about 1 a.m. Sept. 30, he said. The next morning the trap and bear were gone and he learned the animal had died.

“They didn’t take any statements,” he said of Game and Fish employees, based on the records he received and conversations with Game and Fish officials. Game and Fish did not follow “the basic 101 steps to ask what happened.”

“We did stop and talk to the wranglers — seven or eight of them — and let them know that we were pulling out now and had a unique situation,” Thompson said. Game and Fish checked the trap to ensure it was working correctly. Because the incident was unprecedented, Game and Fish decided to order a necropsy.

The baited grizzly bear box trap set at Shoshone Lodge. (Bob Nevens)

Nevens filed a records request with Game and Fish, receiving a diagnostic summary and some email exchanges among agency employees. One document was a working draft of talking points officials could use to explain the incident. Thompson circulated it to various involved parties “for consistency,” an email said.

The draft talking points said initial results of an investigation pointed to exertional hyperthermia/exertional myopathy.” Thompson recommended against distributing a news release “as that will likely just fuel an unnecessary discussion,” according to an email. (Thompson later talked at length with WyoFile about the incident.)

The talking points bothered Nevens because Thompson distributed them on Oct. 10, 20 days before examiners submitted the report on the necropsy. 

Officials appeared to be coordinating their stories, Nevens told WyoFile. He is “absolutely baffled” that a federally protected animal died in Game and Fish custody with what he said is scant record of what happened.

“It probably would have been better if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in and did the necropsy,” said Kristin Combs, program director for Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. When an agency investigates its own operations, she said, “you wonder how much objectivity there is.”

Wyoming Game and Fish has a permit under the Endangered Species Act to capture grizzly bears, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Spokesman Joe Szuszwalak wrote in an email. He did not respond directly to a question about a potential or perceived conflict of interest the state might have in probing its own activities.

Game and Fish report

Shoshone Lodge employees held a party the night the bear was trapped, Nevens said. “Did somebody provoke the bear [in the trap], cause it to stress?” he asked.

Trappers did not drug the grizzly during the incident, according to a capture report. The bear had no ear tags — an indication that it likely had not been captured before. It appeared healthy, although the lab report showed roundworm infestation, but not at the level it would affect the bear’s condition. A test of the bear’s brain did not detect rabies.

This photo of bear tracks was taken the morning after Wyoming Game and Fish captured a grizzly bear at Shoshone Lodge. (Bob Nevens)

“It looks like our bear really got stressed out in the culvert trap,” Terry Creekmore, Game and Fish wildlife disease specialist, wrote other parties as he distributed the report. “High ambient temperatures can result in heat stress and exacerbate capture myopathy, but I doubt the night time temperature in early September was exceptionally warm.”

Trappers found snow on the ground when they arrived at the trap the morning of Sept. 30, Thompson told WyoFile.

The bear had fluid in his lungs and muscle changes “that indicate he died of capture myopathy,” Creekmore wrote. Likely secondary conditions including acidosis, electrolyte disturbances, shock and cardiovascular compromise, the lab report said.

Investigators examined 50 slides of samples from the bear’s brain, kidney, spleen, liver, esophagus, trachea, stomach, small intestine, colon, adrenal gland, thyroid gland, salivary gland, lymph nodes, testis, skin, bone, diaphragm, bladder, tongue, heart, eye, a membrane known as the third eyelid, and found no significant lesions. No underlying illnesses contributed to the bear’s death, documents stated.

“We looked into [whether there was] human intervention,” while the bear was in the trap, Thompson told WyoFile. “There appeared to be no foul play.”

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Rumors that people were feeding the bear proved unfounded, he said. “We looked into those types of things,” he said. The lab report showed a gut containing about four pounds of chokecherries.

“There was fresh snow — there were no tracks around the trap,” Thompson said. “We have several investigative techniques where we can tell if somebody has tampered with the trap. To our knowledge nobody went up and tampered with the bear — nobody did anything to harass that bear while it was in the trap.”

One or two other cases 

A scientific paper documents exertional myopathy in a grizzly bear that died in Alberta, Canada in 2003, 10 days after it was captured by a leg-hold snare. Authors wrote that evidence suggested non-fatal exertional myopathy occurred in other bears captured by leg-hold. Such exhaustion “is not generally a cause of mortality.”

“We propose, however, occurrence of nonfatal [exertional myopathy] in grizzly bears after capture by leghold snare has potential implications for use of this capture method, including negative effects on wildlife welfare and research data,” authors wrote in an abstract of the paper.

Game and Fish did not employ a leghold snare in the Shoshone Lodge capture.

In talking with other bear managers, Thompson’s learned of one other case of capture myopathy in the U.S., he said. It happened with a black bear in the southwest. 

In the draft talking points, Thompson wrote that Game and Fish routinely evaluates and adapts capture strategies “for the ultimate safety of bears and humans.”

Lodge guest Nevens wrote WyoFile that he raised the issue in the hopes witnesses with other information might surface, that future trappings will be safe and that investigations will be thorough and transparent.

WyoFile did not receive a response to an email sent to the Lodge address.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. So-called “wildlife management” has been fatally disastrous for grizzly bears. These magnificent creatures flourished from the late Pleistocene to the mid-nineteenth century, when humans began “managing” them to the brink of extinction. An estimated 50,000-100,000 grizzlies lived from the Arctic south to Mexico, from the Pacific to the Great Plains. And today? An estimated 700 or so in the lower 48 states hemmed into isolated pockets in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, with a handful in Northern Washington.
    Let’s try this for a management plan: Leave the grizzlies alone.

  2. So the basic fact is that the Shoshoni lodge grizzly
    In spite of the all the professional medical language,
    was panicked into total exhaustion, not that difficult to understand!! Grizzlies, I spite of all the popular talk about them living in the forest, are actually open ground animals. Imagine, if you can, living a life completely free to come and go wherever and whenever for the estimated 7 years of his life when suddenly a door slams shut behind him and he finds
    himself trapped inside a box locked in a desperate attempt to escape !
    Some of my closest friends over the years have been Wyoming game and fish employees and I can tell you from my own experience as a game and fish volunteer that I have never met one of them who wouldn’t deeply regret the unnecessary loss of a single animal. I have known these people to do some pretty incredible things, to preserve and protect the wildlife placed in their care !!
    The bottom line here is that while it’s extremely sad and regrettable that this beautiful animal died, it’s no ones fault. Perhaps in today’s technologically enlightened society there could be ways of alerting someone that there is an animal in a trap, just a thought ! I have been a part time forest service volunteer at the Wapiti ranger station at the bear information center and a wildlife photographer for many years in the north fork of the Shoshoni River, the same area as this unfortunate incident .
    The bears that live along the north fork highway are in far more danger from speeding vehicles than any other source.!!! The speed limit on the north fork Highway is 50 MPH but in my observation almost every vehicle traveling on that road is traveling well over that limit in their hurry to get to Yellowstone National park and in their haste they blow right through some of the richest and most diverse wild life habitat in the ecosystem. I give you the case of bear number 104 and her two cubs killed by a speeder. Bear 104 can now be found in the buffalo bill museum in Cody Wyoming

    1. I really don’t know what all the worry is about one grizzle. There are twice as many in Wyoming as there should be anyway. In the middle of Nov. we were out at Dubois and spent 3 days on the trails at Horse Creek and in that area. The only tracks we saw were from wolves and grizzly bears. I have hunted in that area for 25 years or more and it is pathetic the number of Elk and deer we used to see. It was nothing to have seen 300 Elk in the time we were there. Now they worry about one bear and not two or three thousand elk the bears and wolves have killed. I guess the politics are worth more than the wildlife. Another thing is why is it so important the GAme and Fish from Wyo. bow to the Federal game and fish. You would think they would have a mind of theri own.

  3. I thought I read that it was also going to be legal to shoot them while they are hibernating in their dens….babies too…you could have put a sedative in the bait and a 24 hours surveillance camera on the crate if you felt it was imperative that he be moved…. This bear didn’t get so majestic and beautiful in one night but man ended his life by not thinking this out….they had a camera on the man and his son that shot the female in her den and the dying mother blocked the exit for her crying babies…so the next day they came back and slaughtered the little ones. This death was unnecessary it just took a lot of looking at the options and finding the one that worked best…this was not it….you can’t cage a wild animal like that…he has been free all of his life…this is terrifying and deeply sad.

  4. Seems to me that those cages aren’t as “humane” as most would think they are!! Perhaps it’s WISE to check the trap MORE often!!!! Allowing any animal to become so stressed and compromised like that is abuse and absolute cruelty! People expect MUCH MORE from Government agencies-since WE PAY them to DO THEIR JOBS!!
    Since Grizzlies ARE ENDANGERED-these Government employees should have been MORE diligent!!! What a tragic LOSS of life!!!! SHAME ON the GAME & FISH DEPARTMENT!!!!!
    BETTER NOT HAPPEN AGAIN! I also hope that the post from Cody is wrong! Better NOT be shooting animals that you’ve trapped!!!! We NEED Top Predators and we NEED OUR Wildlife for healthy,, balanced ecosystems and a healthy planet! STOP KILLING!!! STOP FEEDING/BAITING animals with human food-that only increases human/animal conflict! Humans NEED to LEARN to CO-EXIST with animals-we DO SHARE this planet WITH them!!!
    Also want to add-BAN STEEL JAW TRAPS, TROPHY HUNTING, and KillING CONTESTS!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Not sure how much they care about wildlife. Their idea of euthanasia is shooting them in the head while in the trap.

  6. What a tragic turn of events for this bear and the Game and Fish employee(s) involved.

    I can say from personal experience that the G&F employees that I have come to know care very deeply for our animals and do everything they can to protect them. When they have to remove a problem bear they are diligent about setting the trap out of the way and then informing people in the area that it has been set. They will come and check on it every day and sometimes several times in a day.

    I am sure that the Warden was mortified to find this magnificent bear dead in the culvert trap and, no matter how upper level management decided to deal with the public relations part of this incident, he/she is still bothered by it every day. It would be unconscionable to doubt the dedication of these people to the welfare of our animals. I have the utmost respect for the work they do every day and only wish their devotion was more richly rewarded.