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Orphaned bears find a home at ZooMontana

George and Willy
Jeff Ewalt
George and Willy the grizzlies rest in their enclosure.

Two male grizzly bear cubs are now at their permanent home at ZooMontana.

They were captured after the mother bear was euthanized by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in early October for breaking into buildings near Eureka.

Yellowstone Public Radio’s Orlinda Worthington paid the cubs a visit.

“The new two cubs are named George and Willy. They are named after two country music stars. One of our main keepers, Crystal, who knew Bruno the longest, we wanted her to name those bears.”

Jeff Ewelt is the Executive Director of ZooMontana. He announced in October that Bruno was euthanized due to serious health issues. It was a blow to zookeepers, the public and to Ozzy - the zoo’s only other grizzly bear.

“ He was like a big brother to Ozzy.  And we have seen some behavior changes in him. He's certainly not quite as active as he has been,” Ewelt said.

Zookeepers are hoping the cubs will be good company for Ozzy, but it’s too soon to tell if the bears will bond.

“Anytime that you put any two large carnivore males together you have  the risk of them of them fighting and potentially really hurting each other.”

Ewelt says they have seen an increase in Ozzy’s attention since George and Willy arrived.

“Bears have an incredible sense of smell. So even though they're not seeing each other quite yet, he knows they're there and you can absolutely see him perk up. So we are really excited to get these bears together,” Ewelt said.

Right now, the cubs are in quarantine to make sure they’re healthy before letting them near other animals. And they’re receiving training to help them interact positively with caregivers.

“We’re working on shifting them from room to room so they can move back and forth and we need to clean those types of things,” said Ewelt.

Ewelt says it could be a few weeks before the public can view the cubs, it all depends on the meet and greet with Ozzy.

They will be introduced nose to nose with some sort of barrier between them just to kind of get their smells.   And once we feel that that's comfortable, we'll literally open the doors and let them out. So if there's any kind of fights, things like that, we'll watch that very closely and certainly we'll break that up if we need to.”

Bears in captivity have a significantly longer lifespan - sometimes as long as 35 years.

Ewelt said a third cub that eluded wildlife officials when the first two were captured has been found but will not be coming to ZooMontana.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.