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Yellowstone’s Most Famous Bear Is Dead

Who shot “Scarface”?

Scarface is dead—long live Scarface. (Peter Stevens (Flickr/Creative Commons))
smithsonian.com

For many visitors to Yellowstone National Park, the shooting geysers and lush vistas are made even better by another kind of natural wonder: bears. One of the park’s most famous, known to researchers as No. 211 and fans as “Scarface,” gained notoriety for his camera-ready stature and distinctive scars. But now, the bear is no more—and, as Brett French reports for the Billings Gazette, wildlife officials want to know why.

In a release about the bear, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed that No. 211 was shot and killed in November 2015, and that the incident is under investigation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. In late 2015, the Associated Press reported that the grizzly had been captured 17 times by researchers over the years. Though he clocked in at 597 pounds in 2011, the massive 25-year-old was only 338 pounds in August 2015.

But scientists weren’t the only people fascinated by the grizzly. Scarface was so recognizable due to his facial scars—doubtless racked up when he fought with other bears—that he became a social media darling. It didn’t hurt that he was so fearless; the bear didn’t seem to mind roads and ranged around the park like king of the forest.

Though it’s not yet certain who shot the bear, one thing is clear: His high-profile killing will reignite debate over bears at the park. Grizzlies are considered an endangered species, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife has proposed to delist them because their numbers have grown so much since they were put on the list in 1975. As Christine Peterson reports for the Casper Star Tribune, the bear population in the park was only about 136 when they were listed as endangered, but has swelled to about 700.

Removing bears from the list could lead to hunting, a move that has been criticized by groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. On its website, the organization argues that “it’s not time to declare victory” for the bears given ecological changes in the park and “high levels of conflicts with people.” But other groups like the National Wildlife Federation disagree. NWF argues that the Endangered Species Act is actually intended to delist recovered species, and that grizzly populations will be safe if proper provisions are made for them once they are removed from the list. (The proposed rule is still open for public comment.)

On its website, the National Park Service notes that the best way to protect grizzlies is to reduce conflicts with humans—and that there were 165 such incidents last year alone. Though that number has fallen significantly, every time a human and a bear get into it, the bears’ survival as a species is threatened.

Scarface was never seen hassling humans—but he was nonetheless apparently killed by a hunter. Louisa Willcox, a Yosemite local who loves and advocates for bears, tells The Livingston Enterprise’s Liz Kearney that No. 211 was “a 25-year-old bear that gave thousands of people the thrill of a lifetime, and he never got into trouble. He was a gentleman of a bear.”

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