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Scarface, a Yellowstone icon, is gone

Scarface is dead.

No, not the character from the 1983 movie starring Al Pacino. This Scarface was the real deal — a 25-year-old Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear who received his nickname from the extensive scarring on the right side of his head.

Scarface the bear and Scarface the movie character do have one other thing in common besides their name, though: they both died of gunshot wounds.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks confirmed Monday that the male grizzly bear shot in late November 2015 north of Gardiner was the bear known to researchers as No. 211 — Scarface.

No. 211 was killed in the Little Trail Creek drainage north of Gardiner on the Gallatin National Forest, an event under investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency doesn't comment about ongoing investigations.

Scarface was well known in Yellowstone by biologists and photographers. He was first collared after being captured when he was 3 years old and had been recaptured 16 times after that, unprecedented for the average grizzly.

"In his prime, he was about 600 pounds," said Kerry Gunther, bear management biologist in Yellowstone National Park. "That's about as big as they get in Yellowstone."

Wyoming photographer Sandy Sisti remembers seeing him for the first time in 2011. After that she photographed the bear or saw him at least once a year, not surprising since male grizzlies have an average home range of 338 square miles and that Scarface spent most of his long life inside Yellowstone.

"I saw him along Yellowstone Lake in October," she said. "I was concerned about him. He looked terrible and was very thin."

Sisti was upset that Scarface had been shot instead of dying a natural death, especially because it was evident that his health was declining.

"I'm just really kind of choked up," she said. "He was an icon in the park. There was just something about him. He had so much character and, oh, my gosh, he'd been in the park since before the wolves were introduced."

No. 211 probably got his scars from fights with other male grizzlies for females during mating season or when claiming deer, elk or bison carcasses. The scars were first noted by bear researchers in 2000 when he was 11 years old — which is the average age at which most male grizzlies in Yellowstone die, Gunther said.

"If you've ever seen bears fighting, they bite to the head and neck a lot," Gunther said. "His scarring was more severe than many others."

At his last capture in 2015, Scarface had lost nearly half of his body weight, weighing in at only 338 pounds. His weakened condition was probably linked to his advanced age, although even at 25 he isn't the oldest bear ever documented in Yellowstone. That went to a 31-year-old. Fewer than 5 percent of male bears born in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem survive to 25 years.

Grizzly bears are protected by the federal government and the state of Montana as a threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service routinely investigates incidents affecting threatened and endangered species and is conducting an investigation with the assistance of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

"Even when I would only see him cross the street I would get so excited," Sisti said. "To live all of that time in Yellowstone is pretty amazing."

Although Scarface weighed 600 pounds in his prime, the grizzly had declined to half that by last fall. An investigation is being conducted into his death. Photo courtesy Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone bear No. 211 was known as Scarface because of the distinctive marks and damaged ear on the right side of his face. The male bear lived for 25 years until he was shot last November outside Gardiner, Mont., in an incident that is under investigation. Photo courtesy Yellowstone National Park