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Grizzlies now at ZooMontana friendly wrestlers, not enemies

Grizzly bears Bruno, left, and Ozzy wrestle in their enclosure at ZooMontana in Billings on Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Grizzly bears Bruno, left, and Ozzy wrestle in their enclosure at ZooMontana in Billings on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

BILLINGS – Visitors to ZooMontana can get a better idea of how grizzly bears interact now that two male grizzlies are able to be in the bear exhibit at the same time.

Keeper Dani Flynn said 12-year-old Bruno and 8-year-old Ozzy were first introduced last week.

Staffers weren’t sure how the face-to-face meeting would go. While the bears had never shown any aggression toward each other in cages, male grizzlies are usually solitary in the wild.

ZooMontana Director Jeff Ewelt said when the bears were first introduced, they stared at each other, nuzzled and Ozzy rolled flat on his back. The heavier Bruno then sat on him for about an hour before the bears started wrestling.

The bears are able to get along at the zoo because there is an abundant supply of food, lessening the instinctual need for a large territory, Flynn said.

“We were confident they would do well together, but we made sure we had darters here if they did get into an altercation,” she said.

Staff were prepared for any level of unwanted interaction with plans to break up a fight first by ringing the dinner bell, then by spraying the bears with water, using bear spray, firecrackers and, if necessary, tranquilizer darts.

“We had vets staffed, too, in case they did get ripped up,” Flynn said.

None of that was needed. And the bears have been playing together ever since.

“They just wrestle and wrestle all day long and are exhausted,” Flynn said. “They were meant for each other.”

Bruno was born in captivity and rescued from a less-than-ideal situation, while Ozzy was captured in Yellowstone National Park when he was about 2.

The companionship has eased anxiety issues with Ozzy.

“Bruno is showing (Ozzy) how to be a bear,” Ewelt said.

The bears are in the exhibit together about five hours per day, from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. and again between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Keepers hope to work toward keeping the bears in the exhibit together all day.

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