Zoo plans contest to name bear cubs

2010-08-04T17:09:00Z 2010-08-30T16:47:41Z Zoo plans contest to name bear cubsLORNA THACKERAY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 04, 2010 5:09 pm  • 

The larger of two new female grizzly cubs at ZooMontana already has a name — Dolly.

“She the most responsive,” zoo Director Jackie Worstell said Wednesday morning as she tapped gently on the bear’s cage to get her attention.

Dolly looked up, interested and apparently not intimidated by the small gathering of humans a few feet away. Her siblings, a smaller, shyer female and a shaggy male, were not impressed. All three lounged close together in a corner of their pen.

Next door, and separated by a brick wall, Ozzie, a big 2-year-old male grizzly from Yellowstone National Park, chewed on a tree limb and seemed unconcerned about all the fuss over his new neighbors.

They’re getting to know one another other as Ozzie passes back and forth in front of their pen when he takes his turn in the outdoor exhibit. They vocalize occasionally and someday — probably a long way down the road — they may get some more personal contact.

“The first night they got here, there was a lot of bear calling,” Worstell said. “I don’t know what our poor neighbors behind us were thinking.”

The only quiet bear of the five now living at the Billings zoo is Bruno, a 10-year-old raised in captivity. He never vocalizes, Worstell said.

Dolly was named by longtime keeper Crystal Whetham, who gave the bear her grandmother’s name. Whetham’s grandmother recently succumbed to cancer.

A contest is planned to name her two siblings.

The three cubs were orphaned when their mother was euthanized Friday after she was positively identified as being responsible for killing one man and injuring two other campers during unprovoked early morning attacks at the Soda Butte Campground near Cooke City two days before.

Wildlife officials have said that the cubs likely participated in the fatal mauling.

Worstell said that when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called to see if the zoo could take the cubs, a lot questions had to be answered before accepting the trio.

“Was the bear a habitual offender? Were there other problems?” she said. “This one was not a problem bear. It was her first offense. With the cubs’ age and it was a first-time incident, we didn’t feel it’s a habitual behavior with them.”

ZooMontana’s plan all along was to have four bears, but has holding facilities for six, Worstell said. The extra bear shouldn’t be a problem, she said, and everyone felt it was best to keep the siblings together.

“They’re very close,” she said. “They don’t go too far from one another. I don’t know if they would survive as well if they were separated. All they know is each other right now.”

The cubs won’t be ready for public viewing for a while yet, but eventually will be displayed together in rotation with Ozzie and Bruno. The bears will then spend three to four hours a day in the expansive outdoor exhibit.

Worstell said a visual examination of the cubs indicated that they were small, but relatively healthy. Zoo officials are still waiting for final results of a necropsy on their mother to see if any underlying physical problems might have played a role in her behavior.

The zoo director said a more extensive physical examination of the cubs will be put off for a while.

“Right now we want their stress level to be down before we check them out further,” she said. “We want to get their weight up before we anesthetize them. Anesthesia can be tough on anyone.”

The bears are eating well, gorging on fish, meat, fruit and vegetables donated by local businesses. They are also getting bear kibble with extra vitamins, as well as a broad spectrum antibiotic.

They are already used to treats that zoo staff is eager to provide.

The yearling cubs will eat their way through the winter instead of hibernating, Worstell said. The reason for hibernating in the wild is because of reduced food supply in the winter months, she said. Dolly and her siblings won’t have to worry about that.

Donations for the care of the cubs have been flowing into the zoo, although Worstell said she hasn’t had time to stop and add them up yet. The largest number of contributors is from New York state, she said. California residents have also been generous. Many have made memorial donations in honor of Jim Cole, 60, of Bozeman, a bear advocate who died last week.

Worstell said time will tell if the bears will require additional staff.

“They’re fairly easy to manage now,” she said. “They don’t separate from one another.”

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