Museum Blog

Last Colorado Grizzly? - Zoology Object (23 September 2011)

Posted 9/21/2011 12:09 AM by John Demboski | Comments

Colorado was one home to two species of bear, the iconic grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) and the black bear (Ursus americanus). However, on September 23, 1979 the last known Colorado grizzly was killed in self-defense by outfitter and guide Ed Wiseman in the San Juan Mountains.  While guiding a hunter near the headwaters of the Navajo River, Wiseman was charged by a female grizzly but was able to kill the bear by hand with an arrow.  The story of the incident and the subsequent USF&W investigation is briefly summarized in InsideOutsideMag and at this website.

 

The almost, complete skeleton and tanned hide of the "Wiseman Grizzly" (ZM.6840) was donated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to DMNS in 1980.  The bear is an older female plagued by osteoarthritis and worn-down teeth (including an abscessed canine).  Her skeleton is riddled with bone spurs in the vertebral column and at her joints.  She was estimated to weigh between 350-400 pounds.

 

Grizzly bears once ranged across western North America from Mexico to Alaska but by the early 20th century, they were extirpated from 98% of their range in the lower 48.  Besides Alaska and Canada, they are currently only found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington.  In Colorado, black bears still roam Colorado, becoming news items when they cause trouble up in the mountains.  Occasionally, there are reports of grizzly bears in Colorado, but there haven't been any confirmed sightings since the Wiseman grizzly in 1979.

 

There have been recent discussions and studies exploring the reintroduction of grizzly bears back into Colorado and New Mexico in the San Juan Mountains.  You can read more about these plans at the Colorado Grizzly Project website.

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