Grizzly 399, Where Are You?
“We saw her with her cubs last night,” Taylor explained as he drove us out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and headed towards Grand Teton National Park.
“Let’s find her then. Her and a moose!” I said, mustering all my energy, as this was the first time on my feet after a stomach bug had knocked me out for 24 hours.
“Yep a grizzly bear and a moose. That’s all,” I said, half joking.
“Well, we might just be able to do that for you,” Taylor said with a nod and a smile. He runs a business called Eco-Tour Adventures and takes visitors on guided wildlife excursions through the Greater Yellowstone region (which includes Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton).
“Really?,” I said skeptically. “I thought only people who were attacked by grizzlies got a glimpse of them.”
I figured a moose was pretty much par for the course — that if I didn’t see a moose in the Yellowstone area, I was plain unlucky — but I never thought I would have much chance of seeing a grizzly bear in the flesh.
“We see 399 and her now-grown cub, 610, quite often. They’re the most famous bears in the U.S.,” Taylor said, “In fact our grizzly population is healthy and increasing, while our moose population has taken a nose dive with warmer temperatures, increased competition for habitat, and predators in the last decade.”
We hopped around the park, Taylor using his insider knowledge to home in on the animals’ favorite hang out spots. Every few stops we would run into a friend or colleague of his, and they’d use the opportunity to swap info on what kinds of wildlife had been seen where.
Yakone, Taylor’s dog, who was along for the ride, nuzzled my arm as we continued driving, and Taylor talked about the geology of the Tetons.
“The Tetons have some of the oldest rocks in North America, even though they are one of the youngest mountain ranges,” he explained.
Taylor is a naturalist to the core, an endless wealth of knowledge in geology, ecology, and animal behavior. He knows the parks like they’re his lifelong buddies.
But Little Miss 399 didn’t seem to care about any of that, and neither did her daughter. They remained out of sight as the sun inched its way overhead.
Though the grizzlies played hookie, we did track down two big bull moose. They were as goofy as I’d always imagined, their awkward dewlaps flopping around when they lifted their heads from browsing. We also saw several pretty pronghorn antelope with their painted doll faces as well as dozens of buffalo, er, bison.
“There are only two true buffalo in the world, the African buffalo and Asian water buffalo,” Taylor gently corrected my mix-up.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
He also shared that the bison in the park had nearly been hunted to extinction by the early 1900s, and credited reintroduction programs for bringing them back from the brink.
As the day wore on, our hopes of seeing 399 or 610 dimmed. It looked like we’d been outfoxed by a bear…well, two bears.
I imagined mother and daughter high-fiving each other as we drove past their secret lair on our way back into town. Taylor had shown me a stellar day full of wildlife despite the celeb grizzlies failure to make an appearance.
Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer
Shannon is photographing with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 and an Olympus Tough TG-820.