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New bears on the block: ZooMontana welcomes new grizzly cubs

New bear
Posted at 10:57 AM, Nov 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-10 12:57:47-05

ZooMontana recently received two new grizzly cubs, who were living near Eureka in northwestern Montana.

The cubs were given to the zoo after their mother was euthanized by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks because she had broken into multiple cabins in the area.

ZooMontana Executive Director Jeff Ewelt said that while the cubs' story is sad, it's typical of the animals they receive.

"Sadly, Mom was euthanized because she was getting into people's cabins," Ewelt said. "Unfortunately, getting animals this way, that are either orphaned or maybe an animal someone had illegally as a pet, it happens a lot."

George and Willie

Ewelt said it's not something his team hopes for, but when animals are brought to their zoo, they do their best to give them the best life possible.

"Believe me, I wish these bears could be out with mom still, but that's just not the way it is," Ewelt said. "Like with these bears, it was either euthanize them as well or give them the best possible life at a facility like ours."

Fortunately, the bears have found a new home, nearly 500 miles away from where they grew up. FWP called Ewelt to see if the zoo could support the bears and he said the timing couldn't have been more perfect following the death of beloved grizzly Bruno.

"When they called us and said we have two cubs available and we said, 'Yeah, we want to bring them in.'" Ewelt said. "The timing was perfect. We were still grieving the loss of Bruno and these new cubs can help get us back on track."

Bruno

Zoo visitors like the Cebuhar family were thrilled with the news on Thursday afternoon.

"I mean the bears are like one of the best parts of the zoo," Caryn Cebuhar said. "To get two new cubs and to get to watch them grow up is really exciting for us."

The bears are currently being quarantined and not available for public viewing. That process is typically a 30-day period, which helps to make sure diseases and other parasites aren't spread to other animals.

Ewelt said the plan is to have them in the habitat, open to the public in about a month. Eventually, he said they'll introduce them to Ozzy, the remaining bear at the zoo, but wanted to let them grow a little bit first. Currently, the cubs weigh a little more than 70 pounds.

However long it takes, witnessing all three bears together, will be a day visitors look forward to.

"It's going to be great to have three of them in there," Sally Cebuhar said. "Three little bears. Well, I guess one big one."

Ozzy and a new bear

Ewelt said the additional companions will be immensely valuable to the zoo, both for the employees and Ozzy.

"With Ozzy losing Bruno, that was a big deal because Bruno was almost like a mentor or older brother to him," Ewelt said. "It's also great for our caregivers. Losing a bear like Bruno is a big void to fill."

The bears are named George and Willie, after legendary country singers George Strait and Willie Nelson, and while they may not achieve that amount of fame, it's fair to say they'll be a big hit at ZooMontana.

“It’s great for those kids because now the generation of younger kids that are coming to the zoo are going to be able to watch them grow along with them," Ewelt said. "They’ll have that personal interaction which is going to be a lot of fun and that’s what excites us."