two of 399's recently liberated cubs lingering in their natal territory for a while, in spite of the risk in particular from the male seen courting their mother.
Grizzly reproductive rates can be low. It wasn't until the summer of 2011 that 399 appeared at Colter Bay again, this time with three more COYs. Photography conditions were poor -- we saw them only once, very late in the evening -- but I did manage to document the sighting in this shot of her with two of the three cubs in the frame:
We recently returned from our annual journey to the area, and voilà, who should appear at Colter Bay but 399 with a brand new set of triplets! Although they were probably more than 100 yards distant, we spent several hours watching and photographing them.
f 399's six cubs born prior to 2013, only two, good mother 610, and one cub from the 2011 litter, are still alive. Let us hope this year's threesome fare better in the years to come.
Young cubs, in spite of their mother's legendary protectiveness, are very vulnerable to hazards such as being washed away in a rushing river, predation by male bears, and of course the simpler things like birth defects and bacterial or viral infections. When they leave their mother's care early, as one of the 2011 cubs is thought to have done, they are not typically sufficiently skilled at acquiring food to survive long on their own.
But if they dwell close to human habitation as these bears do, their risks are multiplied many-fold. Another 2011 cub was hit by a car; one was killed illegally by a hunter, and 587, of the 2006 litter, was legally euthanized this month for persistently predating on domestic livestock.
It's not often that one gets to see an individually identifiable wild animal and to appreciate her family life in the way I have watched 399 over the last 8 years, and it's easy to take emotional ownership. It has been very been difficult learning about the loss of each the cubs, especially those whose deaths resulted from interactions with people that would never have occurred were the bears living in true wilderness. One hypothesis as to why 399 brings her young cubs into the presence of man is that aggressive boars may be less inclined to bother them. How ironic that her survival strategy is the very reason so many of her offspring have died before they themselves were able to contribute to the fragile grizzly population of the Greater Yellowstone Area.