The World’s Oldest Wild Bear Is Showing Her Age

She’s 39 and a half, and she’s the oldest wild bear in the world

The Minnesota DNR’s Ken Soring inspects No. 56 in 1981. Photo: DNR, via the Star Tribune

She’s outlived her oldest neighbor by at least 16 years. She’s been predeceased by dozens of her own cubs. She’s quickly going blind and deaf, and she’s having trouble navigating her woodland home. She lives in the woods of northern Minnesota and her name is, simply, “No. 56.” She’s the oldest known wild bear in the world.

Now that her hair is greying and her teeth worn down, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, local hunters and others are working together to make sure the elderly bear can fade from this world with dignity, writes Doug Smith for the Star-Tribune. Karen Noyce, a biologist with the DNR, “believes No. 56’s unprecedented longevity is more than luck — perhaps a stronger-than-normal ­wariness of humans.” The Star-Tribune:

“She lives in an area with a fair amount of room and few roads, and she hasn’t been prone to come to houses as a nuisance bear, or to ­hunters’ bait,’’ Noyce said. “That’s what’s changed recently. Suddenly in the last couple years she’s been seen a lot, because clearly she’s not able to navigate in the woods as well.’’

The bear has feasted at hunters’ bait sites in recent years, but hunters have honored the DNR’s request to let her live. (Shooting radio-collared research bears isn’t illegal, but the DNR asks hunters to avoid shooting them.)

“Most hunters up here know about her,” Hansen said. The bear has attained something of a legendary ­status. “Everyone seems to brag when she comes into their bait,’’ he said.

No. 56 was first tagged in 1981, and her names comes from the number on her bright orange radio collar. At 39 and a half, No. 56 is the oldest known bear in the wild. Aside from her, the oldest wild bear reached 35 years. But, says Smith, “the average age of a bear killed by a Minnesota hunter is less than 4 years old.”

“Though the bear’s days are numbered, Noyce said she has no idea how long the old gal might live, adding: “I can’t predict. She could lie down and die tomorrow, or keep going.’’

… “We try not to become attached to our study animals,” she said. “We see animals born and dying all the time. That’s just part of the job. But I admit to having a great fondness for this bear. I feel really privileged to have watched her all these years.

“It will be sad when she dies, but the best outcome would be if she doesn’t wake up from an afternoon nap and dies a natural death from old age.”

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