The Oldest Wild Black Bear Ever Recorded

Have you ever wondered how long black bears live in the wild? According to the National Wild Life Federation most black bears can live to be 30, but most die in their early 20’s. But this Minnesota bear defied odds and lived to the ripe old age of 39.5.

According to Bear With Us, Bear No. 56, the female American black bear was first captured and radio-collared in July 1981 by DNR scientists. At the time she was aged at 7 years old and was accompanied by three female cubs.

Bear No. 56 provided the team of scientists a ton of data over the next 32 years. She produced eight litters of cubs and successfully reared a remarkable 21 of the 22 cubs to 1½ years of age. 

Bear No. 56 outlived all of the 360 other radio-collared black bears that DNR researchers have followed since 1981 by an astonishing 19 years. Most of the other bears tracked barely reached 20 years old. She also outlived any radio-collared bear of any species in the world. The second-oldest bear ever recorded was a brown bear that lived to 34.

In July 2013, Bear No. 56’s remains were found by DNR bear researcher Karen Noyce. 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.  

“This is the first bear in our study to die of old age, and there is something satisfying in that,” said Noyce, who, along with Ken Soring, DNR’s current enforcement director, conducted the first capture of Bear No. 56 as a rookie biologist in 1981.

“We knew she was getting feeble,” Noyce said. “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.”