She’s 27 years old, reputed for being a stellar mother and knows her way around a crowd. 

If you live in Jackson Hole she might be your nosy neighbor. Regardless, her olfactory senses are terrific. 

Wyoming resident Grizzly 399 has lived a wild life that has garnered attention around the world. Like the best of us, she’s endured trials and tribulations and heartbreak. And her extraordinary life has inspired untold fans near and far. Hordes of the grizzly’s faithful fan club will surely be staked out in Grand Teton National Park in coming weeks awaiting her emergence from a months-long slumber. The big question is whether she’ll come out with her eighth litter and once again raise cubs. If that happens, the feat will undoubtedly add to Grizzly 399’s legend. 

At 27, she’d become the oldest monitored grizzly in the history of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to bear a litter of youngsters. 

“We looked it up, and from what I’m finding the oldest known age of actual reproduction is 25,” Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team leader Frank van Manen told WyoFile. “Of course, that might change this year if 399 comes out with cubs.” 

Not much is left of Grizzly 399’s teeth except for her canines. “As bears’ teeth get older, they get stomatitis and various gum diseases,” former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly recovery coordinator Chris Servheen said. “Just like in humans, [bad teeth] can affect your heart and your body condition, too.” (Tom Mangelsen/Images of Nature Gallery)

Will she? 

Although none of the Yellowstone region’s 1,100 or so grizzlies captured and collared since the 1970s was a reproducing sow quite so old, grizzly bear biology and research suggests that another stint at motherhood is a real possibility for Grizzly 399. Twenty years ago, former federal grizzly researcher Chuck Schwartz completed a study that queried grizzly populations around the world to ascertain the age grizzly bear reproduction declines and ceases — a phenomenon in mammals known as senescence.

Schwartz found that grizzly fertility shuts off around age 29. Fifteen bears that age or older were included in the dataset, and none of them was observed with first-year cubs. But 27 years old? Grizzlies that age are in steep reproductive decline, but can still pull off a litter. 

“We’re at the end of the curve where things change pretty rapidly,” van Manen said. “I wouldn’t give it a high probability [that Grizzly 399 will have cubs], more like 50/50.” 

Old moms’ club

Already, the matriarch sow bruin of the Tetons has surpassed most grizzly bear norms. For one, she’s still alive. Only 9% of female first-year cubs survive to reach age 27, van Manen said. 

But she’s got a ways to go outlive the oldest bears. There have been at least four females in the Yellowstone ecosystem that made it to age 30 or 31, according to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s database. 

Although boars are generally shorter-lived, the oldest known bear in the Yellowstone region’s history, at 34, was male Grizzly 168, born in 1986 — the year Paul Simon’s Graceland came out and during an era when grizzlies were still concentrated in the Yellowstone region’s core. He died in 2020.

Wildlife photographer Patricia Lavin captured this image of then 26-year-old Grizzly 399 in September 2022. (Patricia Lavin)

Grizzly 399 has also pushed the envelope on reproductive norms. 

In 2020, she lumbered into view seven weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic began changing life for humans. At her side were four little ones — a feat in itself. Four-cub litters comprise just 2% of all litters in the ecosystem. At that time, Grizzly 399, then 24, was the oldest sow being monitored with cubs in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Since then, the old grizzly moms’ club has added to its ranks. Two 25-year-old females were documented with new cubs in 2022, van Manen said, tying the record — shared by four females — for the oldest age of reproduction documented in the Yellowstone region. 

One of them, Grizzly 416, is a Custer-Gallatin National Forest bear spotted with a couple of cubs. A Bridger-Teton National Forest denizen, Grizzly 499, joined her. 

It’s a sure bet that both those now 26-year-old bruins lead anonymous lives in the wild relative to their counterpart, who can command preposterously large crowds. Grizzly 399 has made a name for herself not just from roadside living in Grand Teton National Park, but also, infamously, from spending long stints in developed parts of Jackson Hole. She’s overcome incidents that frequently doom bears — like being purposefully fed — partly because state and federal wildlife managers have given her special treatment in recognition of her global fame. 

Grizzly bear 399 and her four cubs eat molasses-enriched grain left outside a home in the Solitude subdivision south of Moose in the fall of 2020. The homeowner was the subject of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation related to the grizzly bear feeding in potential violation of the Endangered Species Act. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

“She’s earned and deserved exception-status when it comes to the management,” said Cindy Campbell, a Red Top Meadows resident who’s among the legions dutifully tracking Grizzly 399’s every turn. “She’s touched hearts in every corner of the world, and that’s based on people that I’ve stood with on the side of the road. I’ve talked to people, and watched tears rolling down their faces when they’re minutes away from having to run to catch a plane to Portugal or Spain or China or Australia.” 

“She’s touched hearts in every corner of the world, and that’s based on people that I’ve stood with on the side of the road.”

Cindy Campbell

Notably, Grizzly 399’s progeny haven’t been extended the same special privileges. After two subadults from her 2020 quad litter dispersed to the Upper Green River Basin, a 2.5-year-old male, Grizzly 1057, was killed for frequenting residential areas

Will it happen? 

Grizzly 399 has a couple of things increasing the odds she’ll again reproduce. One, she was observed breeding last summer. 

“I saw her breeding with Bruno in June,” wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen said.

That same male bear, Grizzly 679, was also seen mating with Grizzly 399 in June 2019, the year before she emerged with four cubs. 

Biologists say that Grizzly 399 also appears to have stayed in good shape.

“Our last confirmed sighting time was September 2022, and she was in good body condition,” said Justin Schwabedissen, the staff bear biologist for Grand Teton National Park. 

Summer Young, a 4th grade teacher at Cartmell Elementary School in Carrollton, Kentucky, teaches her students lessons about Grizzly Bear 399, which lives 1,300 miles away. This spring the students guessed how many cubs the 27-year-old bear might come out with. (Courtesy)

Van Manen agreed. Judging by the eye test, he said, Grizzly 399 is holding up well into her twilight years.

“Lactation takes a lot of energy,” van Manen said. “And just looking at the photos, she still seems to be in pretty good shape for having just raised a litter of four cubs.” 

Mangelsen’s description was blunter: She was straight “fat,” especially for that time of year. “I’ve never seen her that heavy before in September,” he said. 

The extra poundage boosts Grizzly 399’s odds of coming out with cubs, said Chris Servheen, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator. 

“They have to have a certain percentage of body fat in order to reproduce successfully,” he said. 

Oftentimes as older female grizzlies’ teeth wear down, their nutrition falls off and their body condition declines, Servheen said. Those old, lean sows may breed, but either the cubs won’t take or they’ll die in the den. Grizzly 399 is still looking pretty good, bucking the trend, he said. 

A creature of habit, Grizzly 399 takes a familiar route along Jackson Lake’s shoreline on her way from Signal Mountain to willow-filled meadows along the Snake River in spring 2022. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“She’s unusual that way, there’s no doubt about that,” Servheen said. “She’s right at the edge of her ability to keep reproducing. She’ll come out with cubs, or she won’t come out with cubs.” 

Campbell’s also not hazarding any guesses. She’s withholding her “wishes and opinions” and trying to relish the “mystery” of not knowing.

“Will she come out with cubs, will she come out alone, or will she come out at all?” Campbell asked. “To me, she reigns as the greatest grizzly bear to ever walk the Earth, whether or not she adds this next thing to her legend. In a lot of ways, what she does next doesn’t matter because of what she’s already achieved.”

WyoProfiles examine the remarkable, notable and fascinating lives of state residents — both living and gone. If you have an idea for an individual you would like us to profile, email

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. For me her greatest impact on the bear community was the instance in which she was observed grand mothering the cubs of one of her offspring. 399’s cubs were in a group with her daughter’s first cubs while the adults sought out food and relaxed. It was just a day in the meadow, a chance encounter, perhaps, but this is such a huge leap for a bear and our understanding of their relationships. I enjoyed most watching her and a pair of second year cubs feeding vigorously in a berry patch.

  2. My great hope is that residents of Jackson & Moose have all recognized that feeding and not using bear safe trash cans is unconscionable with Grizzly & black bears living with them. Molasses & grains? That’s a baiting combo used by trophy hunters, and it causes female bears to have triplets and quads-look at the black bear population in Wisconsin. Jackson’s town council has green lit bear safe trash cans for the conflict zones in Jackson starting April 1st, that’s a start but this upgrade has moved at a glacial pace and last year 30 Grizzly Bears lost their lives & were killed by F & W, many for food conditioning. Conflict zones should be coexistence neighborhoods where humans recognize that they moved into the wilderness not the other way around.,
    399, 610, and Blondie & Felicia are gifts to the GYE, give them your respect & modify your human behavior, it takes very little to do, yet, will save Grizzlies and Black Bears lives.

  3. Thank you for your story. It’s difficult to read without feeling tears coming. She is such an amazing bear and mom. The way she kept those 4 cubs fed and safe was so touching to watch. We followed her whole journey from afar on the east coast. I’m so looking forward to seeing what 2023 brings. I think if she comes out with no cubs I’ll be disappointed but she could use a rest!

  4. She is a true ambassador and has stolen hearts everywhere. To glimpse 399 and safely photograph this lovely bear is an altering and eye opening life experience! Humans have so much to learn from wildlife. Save the bears!

  5. NOT TO WORRY – SHE’S SAFE: After delisting Wyoming Game and Fish will utilize already proven wildlife population controls such as designated hunt areas and quotas – ecosystem wide hunting licenses will not be issued. Grizzly populations will be carefully monitored and radio collar tracking employed. Harvest of excess bears will be targeted at bears which have out migrated onto BLM land and private land with emphasis on bears predating on livestock, taking too many moose calves, frequenting rural subdivisions, threatening NOLS forays into the Wind River range, etc. Problem bears in Yellowstone and the Grand Teton NP will not be removed by hunting – they will continue to be trapped and relocated or euthanized in rare instances. The great bears core habitat is currently almost fully occupied and this population density can be expected to be maintained over 900 grizzly bears. Game and Fish will have their hands full trying to manage the out migrating bears – a situation they currently experience – no need to worry about the bears in their core habitat when they are out migrating at the present rate.

    1. 399 will never be safe as long as poachers, politicians, & “game & fish” employees are trying to control her fate or are in the vicinity of her range…She’s the best ambassador for her species ever, & deserves respect & protection from HUMANS!

    2. Really, WY GF already killed at least one of her cubs. They are not in the business of finding the best methods to address the problems that humans have caused – not the bears. So save your ‘harvest speech and hoping bears will be delisted’ for someone else. If it wasn’t for the advocacy groups – what would WY or any other western state look like now?

  6. I worked with Chuck Schwartz when he was in Alaska. You may want to check Alaska’s research data, the oldest bear I know of was taken by a hunter in South East Alaska at 38 years old. It was a male that F&G tagged as a 4 year old. Oldest female that I am aware of was 33, not sure of breeding status.

  7. So, if Wyoming Game and Fish and the State get their wish that grizzlies be removed from the Endangered Species List by US Game and Wildlife, hunters can kill 399 and mount her in their den as a trophy, right?

  8. Mike, this is well researched and infromative summary and perspective of 399 amongst other bears and what is known about bear biology. Frank van Manen’s and Chris Servheen’s contributions are particularly helpful. Thanks.

  9. Making exceptions feeding her and her cubs guarantees early death for the cubs.
    They’re being taught to eat and be fed in habitats they should not be in. Idiots!

  10. And Grizzlies will be de-listed in Wyoming and Montana? Some idiot trophy hunter will go straight for #399 and her cubs–we need oversight on the oversighters. Please save the bears.

    1. Yes, we need to write to our representatives all over the United States. Grizzly bears CAN NOT be delisted. We, as a society have to be global guardians to these animals. WE have to ensure that future generations get to experience what we have all experienced with grizzlies and wolves. It is up to us to ensure this happens.

      1. How about we delist a few head of livestock and leave top of the chain predators alone before we collapse the chain, and cut back on the number of hunting licenses too. ?!