Dead Grizzly Bear Found Decapitated With Paws Cut Off in Yellowstone River

An investigation has been launched after a dead grizzly bear had its head and paws removed from its body.

The dead animal was spotted on a patch of gravel on the edge of the Yellowstone River north of Gardiner, Montana, in June and officials had planned to remove it from the area.

On June 10, the bear was still intact and officials were looking to transport the animal the next day either via boat or helicopter.

But that night, someone cut off the bear's head and paws.

State and federal authorities are now looking for the individual or individuals responsible for cutting the head and paws off of the dead bear.

Grizzly bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to remove parts from the animal or possess them. Violators of the law can be punished with fines and even jail time.

Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are taking part in the investigation because the removal of the bear's head and paws breaches a federal law.

Kevin Frey, senior grizzly specialist with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, told the Mountain Journal: "I understand the desire someone might have to take the head and claws as souvenirs, but what they did—whether they realize it or not—is a serious matter and it's against the law.

"It makes no difference if a person poaches a bear to kill it or to take its hide and claws as trophies or comes upon a dead grizzly and decides to help themselves to the parts. Grizzlies are a federally protected species and it's illegal."

The male bear was 25 years of age when it died, which is relatively old for a grizzly living in the wild, although it is not unheard of in Yellowstone National Park.

"Inside Yellowstone it's not that unusual," Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone Park's chief bear management specialist, told the Journal, noting that the oldest bear documented in the park was 31. "Outside the park where there are so many more things and ways that bears can get into trouble, reach that age is probably more rare."

The bear in question was a known resident of Yellowstone National Park and had been tagged with the number 394, the Billings Gazette reported.

It is not clear how the bear died but Gardiner resident and wildlife artist George Bumann, who had examined the animal, speculated that it may have died due to a fight with another bear. The bear had a swollen right eye and some blood on its head.

Frey, on the other had, thinks that the bear may have tried to swim in the river at high water and was washed downstream.

"I think his death is more attributed to old age," Frey told the Gazette.

Newsweek has contacted Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks for comment.

A grizzly bear
Stock image showing a grizzly bear. An investigation is underway to find out who is responsible for cutting off the paws and head of a dead grizzly bear found on the edge of the Yellowstone River in Montana. iStock