BILLINGS – They will never escape their savage back-story, but three young bears whose mother led them on a rampage through a Montana campground embarked on a new career Friday: fuzzy zoo attractions.
As a posse of preschoolers pressed as close as the glass would allow, the three grizzlies – now Dolly, Loulou and Koda – nosed around their new two-acre spread at ZooMontana.
Wildlife officials euthanized the bears’ mother in July, after the grizzly family was trapped in the wake of a rare late-night attack outside Yellowstone National Park. A Michigan man was killed and two people were injured.
The young – now almost 2 years old – were with the marauding sow bear, but their precise role remains unknown. Investigators concluded the mother was leading her young to food.
Now, after five months in quarantine, the bears are taking their first forays this week around their enclave in Billings. The zoo is about 125 miles from the site of the attacks, a streamside campground near Cooke City.
As they adjust to their new life inside an electrified fence, the bears are showing themselves little different from any other confined wild creatures, zoo representatives said.
“I’m teaching them how to scrounge for food,” ZooMontana senior keeper Krystal Whetham said as the animals dug around for fruit hidden in their snowy enclosure. “They never will be in any kind of situation where they will have a conflict with people.”
Although they are growing more used to humans, the bears still were quick to scatter when startled by human footsteps.
“They need to get used to it; we don’t want them to go out there and have this terrible experience,” Whetham said.