In northern Minn., the world’s oldest bear goes quietly

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  1. Listen Biologist Karen Noyce speaks with MPR News about Bear #56

    Aug. 27, 2013 MPR News Q&A

The world’s oldest known wild bear has died without the benefit of ever having a name.

The Department of Natural Resources today announced that Bear No. 56 has passed on at age 39.5. She was found in a secluded spot in the Chippewa National Forest near Marcell in Itasca County and apparently died of natural causes.

According to the DNR press release:

From 1981-1995, Bear No. 56 produced eight litters of cubs and successfully reared a remarkable 21 of the 22 cubs to 1½ years of age. In 1997, at age 23, she uncharacteristically lost two of her three cubs before weaning. In 1999, at age 25, she bore and raised her last cub. In 2001, when she was next expected to give birth, researchers found her healthy in her den and producing milk but without cubs.

Bear No. 56 outlived by 19 years all of the 360 other radio-collared black bears that DNR researchers have followed since 1981. She also outlived any radio-collared bear of any species in the world. Only a very few individual study bears have been reported to reach age 30. The second-oldest was a brown bear that lived to 34.

Researchers suspect Bear No. 56’s longevity probably is best attributed to a combination of factors, including the location of her home range in a forested area with few people or major roads; a more reticent nature than that of many bears, in terms of her avoidance of people; and luck.

The death doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Earlier this year, the Star Tribune reported, the DNR warned hunters that #56 was on her way out and needed to be shown the respect she deserved.

“We’ve never seen a wild bear die of old age,’’ Karen Noyce, Department of Natural Resources research biologist in Grand Rapids, told the paper “It’s just extremely rare. We’re not going to crack any secrets, but it’s so rare to get an opportunity to watch a wild animal age normally.

Related: A year in the life of Bear 56 (DNR)

Checking up on #56 (Duluth News Tribune)

  • Lglrider

    But she did have a name … No. 56. Rest in peace No. 56. Too bad the rest of the world didn’t know you existed until after your death. Had we known, and had the DNR been forthcoming in their research to the public in general, we would surely have learned a lot from you over the past 39.5 years. God Speed.

    • Maria

      No need to make this political.

      • Lglrider

        No politics intended. If you read it to be so, then your interpretation is skewed.

    • KTN

      Had the DNR told the world, would you have sent a cake?

    • kimbr

      There have actually been several articles in papers over the past few years about the bear. Just because you didn’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  • Pearly

    Oh boy here we go.

  • wolfgangsmama

    Rest in peace dear #56. You lived a good life.

  • Laura Weil

    Rest in Peace.

  • Lyn Cowper Pollard

    Who says she did not have a name? How dare we presume? I doubt very much if she thought of herself as #56, and neither did her cubs, mates or others in the woods. No matter what we choose to name our pets or any other animal, there is no convincing argument that we are right. Even T S Elliott wrote about cats’ names as being whatever we called them as being far from the truth. My, but we like to think we are in control. Tsk tsk

    • Camster

      I like that point. Thank you, Lyn.

  • ziggypop

    MN is turning into a backward state, where hunters shoot collared bears out of spite, Neanderthal trapping is still allowed, and where bears are “baited”. It teaches the bear to eat garbage, and then the hunters just sit and wait for the bears to come and eat. It is pathetic.

    Next door in WI those sadists, “hound” bears at the hottest time of the year. GPS collars on the dogs, and the dogs chase them up a tree, then the shooters (they are not hunters) sit in their trucks and wait for the dogs to stop, then walk up and shoot the bear out of the tree.