At first glance, there's nothing too remarkable about this short clip of a mother bear rushing across the road with two young cubs at her heels. But for those in the know, the footage represents a very happy comeback.


Despite her rather uninventive name, Grizzly Bear 399 – or 399 for short – is one remarkably popular bruin. This native of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has her own Twitter account and Facebook page, and her calm demeanour and peaceful interactions with humans have earned her a big fan base over the years. So when 399 disappeared after losing her white-faced cub, Snowy, to a hit-and-run motorist in 2016, fans were worried about her fate.

Now, those fears have been put to rest: a sighting of 399 in Grand Teton National Park earlier this week proves she's not only alive and well, but also seems to be thriving for a bear of her years. At the venerable age of 21, she's far beyond the usual age that most female bears would mate. And yet, the bear mama was filmed in the same area where she lost Snowy with two spry cubs bounding after her.

According to National Park Service bear management specialist Kate Wilmot, who was lucky enough to witness 399's road-crossing, the mama bear appeared healthy, and judging by their small size, her cubs looked to be around three months old. 

"They were just walking," Wilmot told Jackson Hole News & Guide. "They were close to the road but then they disappeared quickly."

Social media fans weren't the only ones excited by the bear's return to the public eye. Watching footage of the bear family was an emotional experience for Thomas Mangelsen, a wildlife photographer who has spent a decade documenting 399.

"I had a hunch she would show up one more time, but in nature there are no guarantees, and it's not easy being a grizzly in the modern world," Mangelsen told National Geographic. "Every year that 399 has remained alive, raising successive broods of cubs, staying out of trouble with people, has been for those of us who enjoy her presence a gift and a miracle. After Snowy's death we prayed she might make an encore."

Mangelsen isn't exaggerating the grizzly's woes in the modern world. A staggering 85% of grizzly deaths in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem can be tied to human activity, according to National Geographic. And although numbers have recovered somewhat since the subspecies received protection under the US Endangered Species Act more than four decades ago, the looming threat of delisting now has some conservationists worried about their future.

Popular bears like 399, who are used to seeing tourists on their roadside ambles, offer the public a unique opportunity to appreciate wildlife, and are important for good human-bear relations – but such encounters also need to be handled responsibly, caution park officials. That means observing park speed limits and keeping a respectful distance (at least 100 yards) away from the bears.



Top header image: Pat Gaines/Flick