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  • Writer's pictureLouisa Willcox

Episode 49 - Tom Mangelsen, Part 2

Thomas D. Mangelsen is one of the most influential nature photographers in the world. Guided by a deep conservation ethic, Tom is legendary for his advocacy in seeking protection of rare and imperiled species. Tom has a special passion for grizzlies, wolves and mountain lions, and co-wrote The Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, with Todd Wilkinson, that features a grizzly bear known as 399 -- perhaps the most famous grizzly in the world.

Tom and Louisa go way back, sharing a journey towards a more compassionate way of treating our fellow non-human travelers. In this wide-ranging conversation, Tom shares reflections on his evolution from hunting and trapping to carrying a camera instead of a gun, and his challenges as a conservationist speaking up for wildlife in an arena that promotes killing species like grizzlies, mountain lions and wolves -- for fun.


I fell in love with her -- she is such a good ambassador for other bears and for other wildlife. And she taught people a lot about the bear world, and how important they are, and how special they are because of their behavior and everything about them.

After Tom showed a group of students from Kansas Grizzly 399 and her cubs through his camera: One of the teachers came up to me, and said: “You know, Tom, this is so great, because we’ve been to South Dakota, the Badlands, Glacier, and Yellowstone, and this is first bear we’ve seen… These kids will remember this day for the rest of their lives. And a lot of these kids will probably never get a chance to see another grizzly bear.” And I thought: “Wow, that is the value of keeping bears on the landscape, and not having them taken off the endangered species list, not having them hunted and killed by some idiot.”

There was a hunter up on Blacktail Butte a couple years ago, who told me he saw 399 at really close range. And he pulled down with his gun and he saw the cubs, and he realized it was 399, and he didn’t pull the trigger. But it was so close.

On the day Judge Christensen stopped the grizzly bear hunt and restored endangered species protections: I was in Nebraska with the opening of “A Life in the Wild” legacy” show, a traveling photographic museum show, talking about 399 to the audience, and how the judge was making a decision at that moment. And as I was talking, my nephew walks up to the podium, and hands me a note that says: “The judge ruled to put the bears back on the endangered species list.” A woman next to my nephew had been keeping track on her iphone -- now this is in Omaha – and she showed him this ruling…And so I told the audience: “Oh my god, the judge just ruled to put them back on the endangered species list.” And everybody stood up, and it was a standing ovation for the bears.

I’ve learned so much about 399, and still do. Last year, she traveled 40 miles in two days before January 1st when she went into the den up above Pilgrim Creek in deep snows… And watching her plow through two or three feet of snow with new cubs, it was so incredibly heartwarming... And she’s 25 years old, and she’s snow plowing. And the cubs on the first day, they were just sort of playing grab ass with each other following her, because they were full of themselves, and fat and sassy. But by the second, they were marching right behind her, with her breaking trail. And the thought of somebody killing her for fun, or for any reason, is just -- it would break my heart, but it would break so many hearts.


For more about Tom and his art:

For a copy of Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, Tom’s book about the famous Grizzly 399, with co-author Todd Wilkinson:

For more about the Cougar Fund:


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