Minnesota Department of Natural Resources via Minneapolis Star-Tribune
RIP Bear No. 56, who passed on at age 39½ sometime in July.

Bear Facts: Oldest Known Black Bear Takes That Final Nap in Minnesota

August 30, 2013

She was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother. And when the time came, she curled up in a cozy, shady spot ideal for a midday nap, and went into her final sleep.

That is how researcher Karen Noyce found 39½-year-old “Bear No. 56,” as she was known to wildlife officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. She had died peacefully of old age, after 32 years of providing information via a radio collar she’d been tagged with at age seven, when just a mother of three.

Noyce found the American black bear’s decomposed remains in Chippewa National Forest, near Marcell, Minnesota, the Star-Tribune reported on August 27. She most likely died in July.

“She had left her home range … looking for food, apparently,” Noyce told the newspaper. “I was surprised in her state that she would do that. She was just lying in a wooded spot, next to a little bit of a low area, a shady area. It was a kind of place a bear would lay down and take a midday nap.”

Bear No. 56 was first collared in 1981, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said in a statement that paid tribute to her life and acknowledged her service to science.

“During a 32-year study period, she and her many offspring provided an almost uninterrupted record of reproduction, survival, movements and, eventually, senescence (aging), within a single matriarchal lineage,” the department said. “Data from this bear and her offspring have contributed significantly to the scientific literature on black bear biology.”

She also lived 19 years longer than all the other black bears that the department had collared and followed since 1981, marking nearly a decade beyond the black bear’s normal life span of 30 years. Next in line for the longevity record would have been a brown bear that lived to age 34, the department said.

She produced eight litters between 1981 and 1995, though she lost two cubs in 1997 before they were weaned, the department’s statement said. She bore and raised her last cub at age 25. Although last handled by researchers in March 2010, No. 56 was beginning to deteriorate, the department’s statement said. Her teeth were worn and her eyes were clouding.

“From all indications, she died a quiet death, with no sign of struggle at the site and no evidence of broken bones or traumatic injury,” the wildlife department’s statement said.

“We knew she was getting feeble,” Noyce said in the statement. “It would have been sad to find her on the side of the road somewhere, hit by a car. After following her all these years, I’m glad to know she died peacefully. It was a fitting death for a fine old bear.”