Frank and John Craighead, PA conservation figures

Frank Craighead, Jr. and John Craighead

August 14, 1916 - October 21, 2001 and August 14, 1916 - September 18, 2016

John Craighead and his twin brother Frank Jr. will be remembered for their landmark 1960s study that took a look into the secretive lives of grizzly bears at Yellowstone National Park. John once said, “If we can’t get along with the grizzly, it makes me less hopeful we’ll be able to get along with each other.” Their story provides hope.

Growing up in Washington, DC, they explored the Potomac River with their entomologist father, which might be why they later helped write the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The family also had a home near Carlisle, PA. After graduating high school, the brothers took a trip out west to photograph hawks and falcons. In 1939, after graduating from Penn State University, they co-authored “Hawks in the Hand: Adventures in Photography and Falconry.” It was during these photographic journeys that they “knew right then and there that our calling was out West,” according to John.

So in 1959, after earning PhDs from the University of Michigan, they headed for Wyoming and Montana, where they established themselves as grizzly conservationists, much to the consternation of Yellowstone officials. Nature writer Thomas McNamee once said that, “John and Frank Craighead were the greatest pioneers of modern wildlife study by far.”

The Craigheads championed the use of radio collars to follow the wandering grizzlies; a practice that is commonplace today. Through these observations they discovered the bears were more social than thought previously. They also discovered that female bears adopt orphan cubs, and that the average lifespan was five to six years. To see some grizzlies “taking a bath” at Yellowstone, visit:

The brothers’ outspoken criticism of the way the park was managing the dwindling population helped grizzlies rebound from 136 individuals in 1975, when they were designated a threatened species, to approximately 700 today. Because of their significant contributions to studying wildlife in the field, the Audubon Society recognized the brothers as among the 100 most significant figures in 20th Century conservation.

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