Tom Mangelsen  /  AP
This June 2011 photo shows Grizzly bear No. 399 crossing a road in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo., with her three cubs.
updated 6/27/2011 10:34:47 AM ET 2011-06-27T14:34:47

A grizzly bear clan famous for its frequent roadside appearances in Grand Teton National Park is keeping park rangers especially busy this summer tending to tourist critter jams.

The cubs are cute — no question about that — but a female grizzly with cubs happens to be one of the most dangerous animals in North America. And this Grand Teton clan has a history: One attacked a hiker; another was shot and killed by a hunter.

Biologists speculate the unusually camera-friendly behavior by Grizzly No. 399 and her daughter, No. 610, might serve to keep at bay adult male grizzlies, which sometimes kill cubs not their own. Five spunky cubs recently have joined the clan, adding to the tourist traffic.

"It's very important for people to remember that these are wild bears and that they are very protective," said Steve Cain, senior wildlife biologist at Grand Teton.

No. 399 has attacked before. In 2007, the year after she gave birth to a litter of three cubs, she bit a man who came across the four bears feeding on a just-killed elk.

This year, three more cubs were born to No. 399 and two to No. 610, who has been especially visible in recent weeks.

Around sunset on a recent Sunday, No. 610 caused a traffic jam while feeding on an elk calf just 70 feet from a road. About 30 cars lined up while tourists snapped photos of the 5-year-old grizzly and her cubs. A team of rangers and volunteers made sure people stayed behind their cars and didn't get too close.

June has been an especially busy for bear jams and the park's Wildlife Brigade, a team of about a dozen volunteers supervised by a park ranger. The brigade also checks campgrounds for improperly stored food that could attract bears.

"I think this is going to be the summer of bear-watching in Grand Teton, the way it's going," said park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.

Grand Teton has not just famous grizzly bears, but more grizzlies in general as the big bruins rebound in the Yellowstone region, which is under federal protection as a threatened species. Numbers are up from a couple hundred in the 1970s to perhaps as many as 1,000 or more.

"Twenty years ago, seeing a grizzly in Grand Teton was rare. Today it's common," Cain said. "It's necessitated a change in attitudes and culture."

The park encourages people to take care not to attract grizzlies to camp and to know what to do if they encounter a grizzly: Use binoculars or long lenses for viewing; stay at least 300 feet away; and never get between an adult and its offspring, among other measures.

No. 610 — the bears are numbered in the order they've been trapped for study — has been frequenting the same area where she grew up, and biologists say she's emulating her mother's roadside habits.

Few people have observed the grizzlies as much as wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, who lives near the park and a short drive from the territories of No. 610 and No. 399.

He thinks the opportunity for one photo in particular is only a matter of time, possibly while elk are calving and attracting grizzlies to the Willow Flats area not far from Jackson Lake Lodge.

"The ideal thing for me would be to see if they walk past each other and see if they greet and meet each other. Typically females will tolerate other females, and even more so with their own offspring," Mangelsen said.

Not all has been picture-perfect for No. 610's two siblings.

Tom Mangelsen  /  AP file
This May 2011 photo shows Grizzly bear No. 610 walking through sagebrush in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo., while her two cubs look on.

Wildlife authorities in 2008 trapped male No. 587 at a home development in Jackson Hole and moved him west of the Teton Range. Last year they trapped him again in the Upper Green River Basin in an area where grizzlies had killed cattle. They moved him back to Grand Teton.

In 2009, a hunter killed No. 610's sister, No. 615, not far from the park.

Prosecutors charged Stephen Westmoreland, of Teton Village, with illegally killing a grizzly. Westmoreland said he was covered in blood after gutting a deer and shot the bear from 40 yards out of fear she was about to attack. Hunters and bear advocates who debate whether people should defend against grizzlies with firearms or bear spray followed the trial closely.

A jury found Westmoreland guilty last year. A judge fined him $500; he had faced as much as a year in jail and a fine of $10,000.

Plenty of hunters encounter grizzlies in northwest Wyoming each fall. Wildlife managers relocate dozens every year to stop or prevent problems with people and property. Few grizzlies, though, have been as predictably visible at roadsides as these two moms and their cubs.

The theory that they're protecting their offspring is reasonable, Cain said.

"On the other hand, I would say that we have seen males courting both of these females during the mating season in close proximity to roads. So we do know that males will occasionally tolerate people," he said.

Either way, the big bears and their cubs are an extraordinary sight, even in a national park.

"We don't have any other animals reach rock-star status," Cain said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: America's national parks

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  1. Acadia

    Acadia National Park in Maine boasts the highest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and was the first national park east of the Mississippi River. Visitors beware: temperatures can vary 40 degrees -- from 45 degrees to 85 degrees in the summer and from 30 degrees to 70 degrees in the spring and fall. (Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rocky Mountain

    Bear Lake, with mountainside aspens changing colors in mid-autumn, is one of the popular attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Badlands

    The climate in South Dakota's Badlands National Park is extreme. Temperatures range from minus 40 degrees in the dead of winter to 116 degrees in the height of summer. Visitors are drawn to the park's rugged beauty as well as the area's rich fossil beds. (Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Yosemite

    One of the nation's first wilderness parks, Yosemite is known for its waterfalls, scenic valleys, meadows and giant sequoias. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. North Cascades National Park

    The North Cascades National Park complex offers something for everyone: Monstrous peaks, deep valleys, hundreds of glaciers and phenominal waterfalls. The complex includes the park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Zion

    This spectacular corner of southern Utah is a masterpiece of towering cliffs, deep red canyons, mesas, buttes and massive monoliths. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Redwood

    Created in 1968, Redwood National Park is located in Northern California. Today, visitors to the national park can enjoy the massive trees as well as an array of wildlife. (David Gotisha / Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Joshua Tree

    Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeast California. The area was made a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994. Outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Great Smoky Mountains

    Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than 800 square miles in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can expect mild winters and hot, humid summers, though temperatures can differ drastically as the park's elevation ranges from 800 feet to more than 6,600 feet. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Arches

    More than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, many of them recognizable worldwide, are preserved in Utah's Arches National Park. Temperatures can reach triple digits in the summer and can drop to below freezing in the winter. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Grand Teton

    The Snake River flows through Grand Teton National Park, and the jagged Teton Range rises above the sage-covered valley floor. Daytime temperatures during summer months are frequently in the 70s and 80s, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. (Anthony P. Bolante / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Haleakala

    Visitors watch the sun rise at 10,000 feet in Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii. If weather permits, visitors at the top of the mountain can see three other Hawaiian islands. (The Washington Post via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Grand Canyon

    Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps the most recognizable national park. Nearly 5 million visitors view the mile-deep gorge every year, formed in part by erosion from the Colorado River. The North and South rims are separated by a 10-mile-wide canyon. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Yellowstone

    Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park, was established in 1872. The park spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk live in the park. It is well known for Old Faithful and other geothermal features. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Mount Rainier

    Glaciers. Rainforests. Hiking trails. Mount Rainier National Park, located in Washington state, offers incredible scenery and a diverse ecology. The park aims to be carbon neutral by 2016. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Hawaii Volcanoes

    Two of the world's most active volcanoes can be found within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In 1980, the national park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve; in 1987, it was added as a World Heritage Site. (David Jordan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Everglades

    Everglades National Park covers the nation's largest subtropical wilderness. It is also a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. Visitors to the park can camp, boat, hike and find many other ways to enjoy the outdoors. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Glacier

    A view from atop the Grinnell Glacier Overlook trail in Glacier National Park. With more than 700 miles of trails the park is known for its glaciers, forests, alpine meadows and beautiful lakes. (Matt McKnight / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Bryce Canyon

    Located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its distinctive geological structures called "hoodoos." (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crater Lake

    The brilliant blue Crater Lake, located in southern Oregon, was formed when Mount Mazama, standing at 12,000 feet, collapsed 7,700 years ago after a massive eruption. Crater Lake is one of the world's deepest lakes at 1,943 feet. (David Gotisha / Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Olympic

    Washington state's Olympic National Park offers visitors beaches on the Pacific Ocean, glacier-capped mountain peaks and everything in between. Keep the weather in mind when visiting, though, as roads and facilities can be affected by wind, rain and snow any time of year. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Sequoia and Kings Canyon

    A woman stands among a grove of a Giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park in Central California. The trees, which are native to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, are the world's largest by volume, reaching heights of 275 feet and a ground level girth of 109 feet. The oldest known Giant Sequoia based on its ring count is 3,500 years old. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Denali

    Alaska's Denali National Park spans 6 million acres and includes the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak. Many park visitors try to catch a glimpse of the "big five" -- moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bear. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Kenai Fjords National Park

    The National Park Service considers the 8.2-mile round-trip on Harding Icefield Trail in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park to be strenuous, saying hikers gain about 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile. (National Park Service via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Death Valley

    California's Death Valley encompasses more than 3.3 million acres of desert wilderness. In 1849, a group of gold rush pioneers entered the Valley, thinking it was a shortcut to California. After barely surviving the trek across the area, they named the spot "Death Valley." In the 1880s, native peoples were pushed out by mining companies who sought the riches of gold, silver, and borax. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Wind Cave

    Bison graze in Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. Millions of bison were slaughtered by white hunters who pushed them to near-extinction by the late 1800s. Recovery programs have brought the bison numbers up to nearly 250,000. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Canyonlands

    The Lower Basins Zone is outlined by the white rim edge as seen from the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Shenandoah

    Fall colors blanket the Shenandoah National Park, drawing tourists to Skyline Drive to view the scenery. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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