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A Yellowstone Legend

bear-211

When folks visit Yellowstone, one of the hopes on their bucket list is to see bears, especially Grizzlies. Over the years, a few bears have become rather famous around here. Their stories are told around campfires and everyone hopes to get a glimpse or a photo. I'd like to tell you a little about a bear that has captured the imaginations and respect of everyone lucky enough to see him. Please meet Scarface.

Scarface is 25 years old. A couple bears in Yellowstone have reached 28 years, so Scarface is getting up there. He is known officially as bear #211 which was given to him when he was collared the first time at age 3. In Yellowstone, some bears are collared so scientists can study their habitats, genetic diversity, movements, mortality and interactions. Because of these efforts, in 2013, the Yellowstone Ecosystem subcommittee and Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Study Team recommend that grizzly bears be removed from threatened status. http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/news/14041.htm

Scarface is a larger bear. He isn't the most beautiful bear you'll see, but he makes up for it in character. Scarface seems to enjoy being caught and collared because... he has been so many times. He always removes the collar rather quickly, but the scientists were able to track his home territory. You are most likely to run into him on the east side of the Gallatin Range, Absaroka Range, Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley areas. He does travel outside this range at times, but has never ventured outside Yellowstone which is somewhat unusual I'm told.

Scarface got his nickname because of the scars on his face and head. He is a scrapper. Many adult male bears have some scars, but bear 211 is the winner. Some folks think he got the scars from removing his collar. This was refuted by the researchers though as the collars are rather easy for the bears to remove and other male bears who've never been collared also have some scaring. It most likely comes from fighting over mates, territory or food. He's a bit grumpy!

When a bear is trapped and collared, they also do some tests on the bear by taking hair and blood samples. These are added to an ongoing DNA database. The last time Scarface was captured and collared in 2013, the scientists gave him a good bill of health. It must be all the clean living!

On a crisp, late summer morning in 2011, I was taking some out-of-state friends on a hike in the park. We were on a trail that wasn't maintained any longer and heading up the side of a ridge. It was one of those perfect mornings. A light, cool breeze, birds singing, the smells of pine mixed with sage. We reached the top and worked our way across a small clearing. I don't know if you have ever experienced being in a clearing in the wilderness, but it gets so quiet at times you can hear your heart beating in your ears.

We were almost to the trees on the other side when I heard the rustling of some bushes off to the right of us about 100 yards away. I turned and noticed a large, dark form moving through the bushes. My heart quickened like it always does when I encounter one. I motioned to the others to stand still just as the bear emerged. As he looked in our direction, I immediately recognized him. Bear 211, Scarface. He is easy to recognize because of his right ear. No other bear in Yellowstone looks quite like him.

He stood there for a moment, looking us over and I put my hand on the bear spray I keep in my pack. He wasn't interested in a confrontation though and he started walking slowly along the brush line. He would glance over at us from time to time, but I never felt threatened in any way. Then, right before he went into the the trees, he stopped, sat down and looked back at us. 

Some describe Scarface as scruffy, homely, or even ugly. To me he was regal and I felt so lucky to get to see him. He emanated a feeling of wisdom, of gentle strength, and quiet authority. This was his realm and we were visiting, but he gave me the feeling that we were welcome. Then he grunted, as if to say, "Nice to meet you. I'm glad we finally bumped into each other." He got back on all fours, turned his face away and slowly disappeared into the trees. I'd heard many stories about Scarface for years but I was never lucky enough to see him until that day. 

We love Scarface. We admire and respect him. He's a survivor and a leader and he's become a true Yellowstone legend. =]:)

Sad update: Unfortunately Scarface has been killed by a hunter. You can read about the investigation here: https://goo.gl/PMqdny

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