If you stumbled upon a dead grizzly, would you chop off its head and paws?
Someone did just that, and state and federal authorities are trying to determine who. In June, a 25-year-old male Yellowstone grizzly bear dubbed No. 394 was found dead along the gravel bar in the Yellowstone River north of Gardiner, Montana. The bear was known to local residents, including sculptor George Bumann, who learned of the dead bear from a rafting guide, according to the Billings Gazette.
Bumann immediately boated to where the bear lay dead to take measurements for his artwork.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife management specialist Kevin Frey arrived and completed an initial examination, determining that the bear had likely drowned. Frey said he hadn’t found any gunshot wounds or anything suspicious and “speculated it may have tried to swim the river at high water and got washed downstream,” according to the Billings Gazette.
This particular Yellowstone grizzly bear was old and, during its last capture in 2016, had weighed in at 591 pounds. Because the bear was found near houses on the open river and because of its heft, Frey believed the bear to be safe where it was until MFWP found a way to get the carcass out of the river.
He was wrong.
MFWP was notified of the dead bear on June 8. On June 11, after confirmation from MFWP that the agency planned to move the bear, Bumann posted to his Yellowstone Life blog a synopsis of what he’d found on the bank as well as some poetic commentary.
Bumann was careful not to give away the exact whereabouts of the deceased grizzly, but someone apparently figured it out and swept in overnight to remove the bear’s head and all four of its paws.
While its death may have been due to old age, its decapitation and dismemberment were done either by someone taking advantage of the situation or by someone unaware of the seriousness of his actions.
“It could have been a purposeful take, or half innocent not knowing about” the illegality, Frey said. “There’s a lot of interest in having the skull or claws off them.”
Anyone in possession of grizzly bear parts is in violation of federal law because grizzly bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now involved in the investigation, and someone is going to have a lot of explaining to do.