By now most grizzly bears are snug in winter dens, safe at last from poachers, big game hunters, and other dangers. Last week, to the relief of her many fans, Number 399, the rock star grizzly matron of Grand Teton Park, was seen with her two yearling cubs making their way back towards her denning area along Pilgrim Creek. She and her family had stayed up later than most grizzlies because they could feast on the abundant remains of elk killed by hunters in Jackson Hole. Once again, this 21-year-old veteran mom had miraculously survived a landscape bristling with guns as well as other hazards that come with her life strategy of living close to people.
What does the next four to five months of life look like for her and other grizzly bear moms? Let’s peer into her lair and find out.
In the darkness below the snow, we find miracles and mysteries. I like the fact that, despite industrial-scale research, hibernation remains magical and elusive. Wild animals will always defy circumscription by the human intellect – and throw us back on heart, soul, and imagination.
There are some things that we do know about hibernation. Bears don’t eat or drink or excrete waste for between 150 and 180 days. (If it were you or me, we would have died after just a few days.) But when bears crawl out of their dens in the spring, they are specimens of health. They don’t lose much bone strength or lean muscle mass, even though they may lose as much as 30% of their fall weight. And their…