Pinedale-based large carnivore biologist Zach Turnbull has discovered the oldest grizzly bear ever documented in the tri-state Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Turnbull had been investigating an identification tattoo inside the tranquilized grizzly bear's lip when he made the discovery. The bears are given ascending sequential tattoos in the order that they are tracked, with more recently tattooed bears having numbers starting with sevens, eights, or nines — even more than a thousand. The bear Turnbull found had the digits 168.
"He was born in 1986," said Turnbull's boss, Dan Thompson, after his team was able to pinpoint the bear's age. "That's pretty wild to think about. I think I was in junior high. I know it was the year before [Guns N' Roses'] Appetite for Destruction came out."
The bear is the oldest grizzly ever document in the tri-state Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Thompson, large carnivore supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said his team was able to pinpoint Grizzly 168's age, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports.
When Grizzly 168 was around 19 years old, he sired a three-cub litter. There has also been genetic evidence that he kept on breeding as he aged.
"It's not 100%, but based on the genetic evidence we have, there's a likelihood that he bred as a 31-year-old male," said Thompson.
When Turnbull captured Grizzly 168, the bear was down to an estimated 170 pounds, with only three nubs for canines and no other teeth.
Hilary Cooley, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's grizzly bear recovery coordinator, made the call to euthanize the grizzly. According to Thompson, relocating the animal "wouldn't have been the right thing to do."
The skull of Grizzly 168 has been saved to serve as a reminder of the oldest grizzly ever known to inhabit the Yellowstone region.