Photo: Grizzly #663 (previous referred to as: F01) pictured cresting a hill in the Little America area near Junction Butte in Yellowstone National Park during late summer 2016. At this point in time, she was accompanied by her lone surviving male cub from her initial litter of three. Photo credit: Copyright Jort Vanderveen 2016, "Jort The Yellowstone Guide" https://www.facebook.com/jort.me/
Over the past several years, one grizzly family has stood out more than the rest: the Junction Butte sow. What made her stand out? Well, sadly, her inability to be a good mother, and provide security to her cubs.
Unbeknownst to many, several years ago this sow was collared, and tagged. Only recently were we able to uncover her potential identity.
Grizzly bear 663 was only captured, handled and collared once during her lifetime; trapped on October 2, 2010 at Jasper Creek in Yellowstone National Park. At the time of her first and only capture, she was 6 years old, weighing 206 lbs. and not accompanied by any cubs at that time. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team fitted 663 with a radio collar. In 2011, during aerial flights and visual observations, no cubs were observed. During 2012, she was observed with 2 cubs-of-the-year (COY) during May, but no cubs were observed during the month of June; presumably, both cubs perished but the cause of mortality is unknown. In 2013, 663 cast her collar. Observations during 2013 concluded that 663 did not have cubs. During 2014, 663 was observed with two cubs-of-the-year; later in the summer, she was observed with only one. The following year 2015, she was observed with no cubs, suggesting that her lone remaining cub perished some point during 2014. As of 2018, grizzly 663 is 14 years old.
Photo: Taken 5/22/16. Notice the great distance between sow #663 (top of the frame) and her two cubs-of-the-year (COY) bottom of the frame. This behavior was observed frequently during 2016. Anecdotally, we believe this behavior contributed to the loss of her 2nd cub during 2016. #663 remained accompanied by her one remaining male cub through 2016, 2017 and weaned the cub during the spring of 2018. Photo credit: Tyler Brasington 2016
We were able to identify 663 from the following information:
You may ask “how could you identify 663 after she lost her collar?” The distinguishing features of 663 include her unique facial scarring. 663 has several scars displayed on her face, which include a “C” slash across the bridge of her snout, and a horizontal “joker” scar on the right side of her face/mouth region. These scars were first documented during 2012. After she dropped her collar, we have been able to identify her based on this distinct markings.
Since 2016 when I first began monitoring her movements, grizzly 663’s primary home range is approximately 60km2. Best available science suggests that she has yielded two litters of cubs during her lifetime (2013 w/ 2 COY – both deceased; 2016 w/ 3 COY – 2 deceased, 1 survived & weaned at 2 years old). Some have given her the title of “the bad mom” due to her leniency, allowing her cubs to wander away hundreds of yards away from her direct supervision. Undoubtedly, 663 over the past three years has been one of the more observable and visible females with cubs in the Little America, Lamar Valley area the past several years. Many visitors have been granted the opportunity to watch and observe this grizzly and her cub in their wild home, of Yellowstone National Park. We can hope that 2019 will bring her new cubs!
A special thanks to Jort Vanderveen (Jort The Yellowstone Guide), Matt Proctor, and Rick Partlow for the use of their images for research and identification purposes.
During 2015 while in the backcountry in and around Glacier National Park, I had several documented encounters with grizzlies of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). One grizzly I came across, was not even 3 miles from the Canadian border. At some point in this bears life, it most likely crossed the border between Canada and the United States, completely un-phased and without care. In their world, a grizzly is a grizzly; they know no borders or boundaries!
The first successfully radio instrumented grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Grizzly No. 40 or called "Marian" by John & Frank Craighead. The bear was named after the engineers' wife who designed the collar transmitter.
The Craighead brothers were the pioneers of grizzly bear research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Their successful implementation and deployment of radio collars on grizzly bears revolutionized the ability to track free roaming populations of animals in the wild.
Photo credit: Frank & John Craighead
Tyler Brasington is a native born and raised Pennsylvanian, yet proud current Wisconsin resident. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Currently, Tyler is pursuing his masters in Natural Resources with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has worked in Yellowstone National Park under the guidance and supervision of Dr. George Clokey and Dr. Jim Halfpenny.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Interior, US Geological Survey, National Park Service or the United States Government.
The Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Project
© 2019 Tyler Brasington
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