Scarface, a well-known, well-photographed Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear, has been identified as the bear killed north of Gardiner, Montana last November.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed a male grizzly bear shot in late November 2015 was the bear known to researchers as No. 211. The killing remains under investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with assistance from FWP.
Grizzly bear No. 211 was recognizable because of distinctive scars on the right side of his face, which were likely the result of typical fights with other male grizzlies for females during mating season or to claim deer and elk carcasses, an FWP news release said.
No. 211 was known to many photographers and wildlife watchers — because of his distinctive facial scars — as Scarface.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said park officials and staff make a point of not giving park animals names.
“They’re wild animals. And when people refer to them by name, they tend to not see the animal as a wild animal anymore,” Bartlett said.
She added, “People see Scarface, and they’re going to feel a more intimate connection and then treat him differently than just a bear that doesn’t have a name. And that intimate connection is very one-sided.”
But Sandy Sisti, a wildlife photographer who has seen Scarface once or twice every year since 2011, said Scarface was special to her. She was saddened when she heard the news Scarface had been positively identified.
“I knew him as well as you could know any wild bear,” Sisti said Monday afternoon. “He was like an icon of Yellowstone,” she added. “There was just something special about him. He was recognizable, he lived so long.”
Another area photographer, C. Thomas Hoff of Gardiner, said he’s seen Scarface quite a few times, but mostly at a distance. He got a good shot of the bear about three years ago in Lamar Valley and in 2008 he took a photo of Scarface on a bison carcass in the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley.
Another time he watched the bear nap along the roadside.
“I don’t want to say he was habituated, but he was used to being around people. One time he climbed up on a big boulder next to the road at Tower Junction, laid down on the boulder and took a nap,” Hoff said Monday afternoon. “He was only about 20 yards from the road, but it didn’t seem to bother him that a lot of cars were around.”
In his prime, No. 211 weighed approximately 600 pounds. At his last capture in 2015, he had lost nearly half of his body weight, weighing in at only 338 pounds, the FWP news release said.
His body condition was probably linked to his age of 25 years, an advanced age for grizzlies. Fewer than 5 percent of male bears born in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem survive to 25 years, according to the FWP news release.
Bartlett, with the National Park Service, provided some additional background information about grizzly bears in general and No. 211 specifically.
Bartlett said the average life expectancy for a male grizzly is just 11 years. Females have a longer life expectancy. She said the average age right now of a grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is 20-30 years old. The oldest-living bear in the park was reported to have lived to 31, she said.
No. 211 was first captured and radio-collared as a 3-year-old in 1993, Bartlett said. At the time, he weighed 140 pounds. When he was captured again in 2001, he weighed 597 pounds. In 2013, at age 20, he weighed 431 pounds, and by last year, he was down to 338 pounds.
Sisti saw him in October at almost half his prime weight, and she thought he didn’t look good. She thought maybe his age and condition had contributed to his not being able to compete against the younger, stronger male bears anymore. She remembers the last time she saw him.
“He was over by Yellowstone Lake by Mary Bay,” Sisti recalled. “Behind the thermals, a big grizzly had been on an elk carcass for several days. In the good old days, I’m sure Scarface would have challenged him, but I remember seeing him lift his head, like he could smell the carcass and the other bear. But he turned and walked the other way. Like he knew this wasn’t the time to be challenging a big 500-pound bear.”
Scarface’s territory ranged from the east side of the Gallatin mountain range to the west side of the Absarokas, and from north to south from the Cooke City area through Lamar Valley and into Hayden Valley, Bartlett said.
Sisti is concerned about Scarface’s death and how it relates to the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to “delist” Yellowstone grizzlies from the endangered species list. She thinks there should be a buffer zone around the park off-limits to hunting.
“Bears are such a symbol of the wilderness,” she said. “It makes you feel more alive to have them here. It’s not just about us, it’s about sharing. What would make Wyoming any different than anywhere else if it didn’t have wildlife?”
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