Cub of iconic grizzly bear killed in hit-and-run accident

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Grizzly bear No. 399 leads new cub through a meadow after emerging from hibernation last month. Photo: Courtesy of Bernie Scates/National Geographic

A new cub born to America's most famous grizzly bear has been killed during a hit-and-run accident in Grand Teton National Park, according to reports not yet confirmed by the park.

The incident occurred late Sunday night in the Pilgrim Creek area.

Grizzly No. 399, the adult female, is described by some as America’s most famous wild grizzly bear. She's an icon in Grand Teton National Park, having produced 16 cubs while becoming a favorite critter among tourists.

Adding to her legend was that she came "back from the dead," emerging from hibernation last month with her cub, months after a Wyoming hunter had boasted to the Jackson Hole News and Guide that he had killed the bear during the winter.

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Snowy, the new cub, was fast becoming a park favorite. Photo: Courtesy of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates

Grizzly 399's male cub, nicknamed Snowy because of his blond face, was also becoming famous as it trailed mom through meadows to the delight of tourists and photographers.

"The death of this cub is especially tragic since Grizzly 399 is nearing the end of her reproductive life," Wyoming Wildlife Advocates stated Monday on Facebook.

"And sadly, she has only replaced herself in the population with one adult female, Grizzly 610. 399’s cub, known as Snowy or Spirit by the bear watchers of Grand Teton, was adored for its antics and notably white face and will be sorely missed."

Wildlife photographer Deby Dixon was searching for Grizzly 399 early Monday when she spotted what looked like an accident scene on the road near Pilgrim Creek.

According to the Washington Post, the road had been cordoned off and a member of the park's Wildlife Brigade told Dixon that Snowy had become a hit-and-run victim, and that the cub's mother had dragged the carcass off the road.

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Grand Teton National Park visitors pay their respects at a memorial cairn set up Monday morning. Photo: Courtesy of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates

The park issued a news release Monday afternoon, announcing that two bears were killed by motorists in the park Sunday night – an adult male, and a cub weighing 40 to 50 pounds. But the park did not specify that the cub belonged to Grizzly 399.

The announcement, however, confirmed that the deceased cub was dragged 40 yards from the road by its mother.

Kent Nelson, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, told GrindTV that Pilgrim Creek is 399’s territory and that there’s “no real doubt” about the identity of the dead cub. Nelson added that by mid-morning Monday, visitors were placing rocks at the entrance to Pilgrim Creek road as a memorial cairn to Snowy.

Ironically, Grizzly 399 appears to have preferred roadside areas to raise her cubs, because deeper in the wilderness male grizzlies sometimes clash with adult females and kill their cubs.

News of the deaths of two bears at the hands of motorists Sunday night are sure to reignite the debate about how many cars should be allowed in national parks.

In fact, that's already the theme of the message thread on the Wyoming Wildlife Advocates Facebook page.

Reads one comment: “Speeding tickets in national parks should be $1,000. Then maybe the fools would slow down and pay attention.”

Reads another: “We must cap the numbers of visitors in national parks. These lands were set aside to protect and preserve wildlife. They are not amusement parks, and people need to realize they are not ‘parks.’ They are ECOSYSTEMS.”

Stated Park Superintendent David Vela in the news release: “These unfortunate incidents are an important reminder for all of us to slow down and be vigilant when we travel through the park. Especially with the traffic levels that we are seeing during this busy season, it’s important to obey posted speed limits, maintain a safe following distance behind other vehicles, and be especially watchful around dawn and dusk when wildlife are more active.”

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