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California Grizzlies

Los Angeles Almanac Photo at Natural History Museum of Los Angees County

Its scientific name is Ursus arctos californicus. It is the official state animal of California and prominently featured in the California state flag. Once commonly encountered in the Los Angeles area and estimated to have numbered as many as 10,000 throughout California, the species was hunted to extinction by the early 20th Century.

The last known California Grizzly roaming Southern California was shot and killed in the Sunland area of Los Angeles County on October 26, 1916, by farmer Cornelius B. Johnson in the Sunland area of Los Angeles County. Johnson was aggravated by damage the bear was doing to his crops and concerned that its tracks indicated it to be a large animal, thus a threat to the safety of his wife and two daughters. Over three days, Johnson managed to track down and shoot the 250-pound bear. Because grizzlies were already a rare sight in California by that time, Johnson had never actually seen one until the encounter. It was the second-to-last- California Grizzly killed in the wild.

Johnson's Grizzly was not only the last of its species known to roam Southern California, but, for the next 17 years, the last known bear of any species to freely roam anywhere in Southern California. In 1933, San Bernardino businessman J. Dale Gentry, seeking to return the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains to their earlier "wilder" states, brought 28 problem black bears from Yosemite to be introduced into the mountains of Southern California. Black Bears normally stayed at higher elevations to minimize encounters with Grizzlies, but finding the new Southern California environment to be "Grizzly-free," quickly expanded their territory to include suburban neighborhoods.

There are, at present, serious proposals to reintroduce grizzlies to California through back-breeding, cloning and genetic engineering.

Diorama of Grizzly Bear hunting by early Los Angeles vaqueros, circa 1830s. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.