I first heard of him three years ago in Yellowstone Park. A ranger was supposed to be giving us a general orientation to the park, but spent most of the time talking about a particular grizzly bear which had captured his attention -- a 600 lb male grizzly named "Scarface". Scarface had a penchant for getting into trouble -- nearly every type of trouble that a bear can get into. He was known as one of the most active and aggressive bears in the park, making him also one of the most photographed bears in the park. Put on a documentary about Grizzlies in Yellowstone; most likely it will include footage of Scarface. He got into numerous fights with other bears over females, over rights to a kill, maybe over bear politics. One of these battles caused a serious injury in which he lost half an ear and a deep gash across his face – giving him his name. As a result he was instantly identifiable.
Recently he had crossed the line, which park officials define as "too close contact with humans". He was found rummaging through some trash dumpsters. This earned him a tranquilizer dart and a radio collar. After that they knew where he was at all times. So he was also one of the most studied bears in the park.
The ranger told about a bear kill (not Scarface's) he was observing. He noticed a tiny brown dot in the far distance. The little brown dot got bigger and bigger but he couldn't make it out until he pulled out his binoculars. It was Scarface! Somehow, from over a mile away Scarface had detected the kill and was making a beeline for it. The ranger found this remarkable as Scarface was *upwind* of the kill. Of course when Scarface arrived he took over the kill and chased the other bear away.
It was clear from the way he told these stories that he had developed a sort of admiration, even affection for Scarface. Later that same day I encountered Scarface myself, in person! He was just standing on top of another kill, protecting it. I snapped this picture of him:
The legendary "Scarface" (This picture was later used by a tour company to promote tours of Yellowstone)
There was something unique about him, and he captured my imagination too. He had personality, he had character. I never forgot him. This year I had returned to Yellowstone in the winter, on a wolf tracking expedition. The topic of Scarface came up and I inquired about his status. Scarface was 25 at the time, a fairly old age for a grizzly. His health was declining, but should have had a few more years to live.
Today, I learned that Scarface had been shot by an unknown person. Grizzlies are protected under federal law, so most likely this was an illegal act (the only exception is self-defense which is unlikely because it was not reported).
Goodbye, Scarface. You touched many lives including mine and my heart is heavy, especially at the manner of your passing :(