Minnesota Biologists Ask People to Leave World's Oldest Wild Bear Alone

An elderly female black bear lurking in the woods of northern Minnesota has the unique distinction of being the oldest wild bear recorded--ever.

According to the Post Bulletin, the 39 ½-year-old bear No. 56 was radio-tagged by researchers in 1981 when it was 7 years old. Since then, she's survived countless hunting seasons, outlived nearly all her offspring, and is starting to experience the ailments of old age--including sever hearing and vision loss.

"We've never seen a wild bear die of old age," said Karen Noyce, Department of Natural Resources research biologist in Grand Rapids who has been monitoring No. 56 since she first tranquilized and attached a radio collar to the bear 32 years ago. "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. We're trying to get the word out to everyone in that area. A lot of people already know about her."

Noyce added she recently tracked the bear's signal, and was able to get within 10 feet of it, but once she moved upwind, the bear detected her scent when she was 20 feet away and hobbled off.

"Her gait is a little unsteady. When people see her they think she looks drunk. That's because no one ever sees an old, old, old bear like that. But she doesn't seem to be in any pain. Her teeth have been terrible for six years, but she still has teeth," Noyce said. The bear was nearly 200 pounds when last weighed three years ago.

Hunters have also noticed No. 56--she has frequented several bait sites over the years. But they're aware of the bear's significance, and have showed restraint.