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ZooMontana says goodbye to a favorite resident

Bruno the Bear is pictured sitting for a
Bruno the Bear is pictured posing for a picture.

ZooMontana in Billings shared some sad news today, October 20. One of its iconic residents has passed away.

ZooMontana staff and volunteers bid an emotional farewell Thursday to Bruno the Grizzly Bear.

Zoo Director Jeff Ewelt says Bruno was humanely euthanized after several health battles became too severe to manage.

Arthritis was the primary issue for Bruno.

“And over the years, he just started getting much more sore, difficult to move around, especially in the wintertime. But he got to the point here in the last really last couple months where it was just too severe to manage and started having the quality of life talks and all decided in conjunction with the veterinarian that it was time to put him down,” Ewelt said.

The estimated 23-year-old bear’s health problems were linked to the lack of care and nutrition he received as a young bear, when he was illegally held in a private, Tennessee backyard in a a small dog kennel.

But the last 15 years of his life were spent well at Zoo Montana. Ewelt describes him as a carefree bear that enjoyed days filled with his favorite things: playtime and the public.

“Bears have an incredible sense of smell and one of his favorite things to do would be to sit by that window. And you know, kind of sniff and smell the public as they went by, especially small kids. And so we've got some really great pictures of kids interacting with him through that window,” Ewelt said.

Ewelt says they are receiving incredible tributes and photos of the beloved bear.

You can see them on Zoo Montana’s Facebook Page.

Animal caregivers are keeping an extra-close eye on ZooMontana’s other Grizzly Bear, Ozzy, Bruno’s roommate, and pal, as he adjusts to Bruno being gone.

The Zoo will welcome two orphaned grizzly cubs from northwest Montana in the next few weeks.

That means Ozzy will now be the big brother and mentor instead of Bruno’s younger companion.

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