The Return of the Grizzly Bears to San Francisco and California

The following article is an AP article, reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle. The original article appears here: SF Chronicle

Grizzly bears arrive at SF Zoo, bringing state total to seven
Monday, October 11, 2004

(10-11) 00:07 PDT SAN FRANCISCO (AP) --
Two young grizzly bears have arrived at the San Francisco Zoo from Montana, where the sisters had lived as orphans after their mother's death

With the pair's arrival Sunday, California now has seven specimens of its state animal, and the San Francisco Zoo has a grizzly bear for the first time in 15 years.

The two 18-month-old bears were nearly put to death last month by wildlife officials in Montana before San Francisco zoo officials intervened. After their mother was euthanized late last fall, the cubs started snooping around farm buildings, sparking worries that they were becoming a danger to humans.

The adolescent bears, who were transported in a cylindrical metal cage with air holes, were driven to the zoo by Stella Capoccia, director of the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Service. They left Montana early Saturday morning and drove straight to San Francisco.

Capoccia described the animals as "really well behaved" throughout the drive and said they had eaten a 50-pound bag of dog food and 10 pounds of deer and antelope meat. She predicted that the bears -- one weighing about 145 pounds and the other 165 pounds -- would each gain about 50 pounds in the next month.

Thousands of grizzlies flourished across California until the mid-1800s, when speculators began to arrive for the state's gold rush. Between that time and 1922, every living grizzly in the state was either captured or killed. Even so, the grizzly was declared the state animal in 1953 and its image famously graces the California flag.

With the new bears, the San Francisco Zoo becomes the first major zoo in the state to hold grizzlies. A mother and two cubs live at Moonridge Animal Park in Big Bear, San Bernardino County, while a male and female grizzly live at Chaffee Zoo in Fresno.

San Francisco Zoo officials said most zoos don't have enough space for grizzlies, which are tough to manage in captivity because they are often smart enough to use tools and outwit locks. Grizzly bears generally live about 30 years in captivity.

The zoo's new residents will be quarantined for at least 30 days before visitors can see them. Later, they'll be moved into a living space separate from the zoo's three polar bears and two spectacled bears. The zoo will sponsor a naming contest for the bears.

Only about 1,000 grizzly bears live in the Lower 48 states, mostly in Montana. They typically grow to be eight feet tall and weigh from 400 to 1,000 pounds.

The San Francisco Zoo's most recent grizzly, named Greg, died at age 27 in 1989.

The following article is an AP article, reprinted from the SF Gate. The original article appears here: SF Gate

Mischievous grizzly cubs to be adopted by S.F. Zoo Montana planned to kill 2 orphan bears
Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004

The San Francisco Zoo is rescuing two grizzly bear orphans that the state of Montana had sentenced to death.

The year-old sisters will arrive in the city next week, bringing to seven the population of grizzlies in California, where once they flourished in the wild.

"I was born in Los Angeles. I'm a Californian," zoo director Manuel Mollinedo said Wednesday. "To me, grizzly bears are very symbolic. They're an animal that we have on our flag but they were literally driven into extinction by the early pioneers in this state."

The sisters lost their mother late last fall when she was humanely destroyed by Montana's wildlife officials.

"She ran into some human-conflict situations," said Stella Capoccia, director of the Montana Wildlife Center, a state agency in Helena. "Bears will get a number of opportunities. They'll be moved and tagged. She had exhausted her opportunities."

Capoccia said her cubs were involved in the incidents but didn't pose enough of a threat to be put down. Instead, they spent the winter in a makeshift den in northwestern Montana near where they were raised. In the spring, they were released into the wild.

"Upon release, these bears were extremely successful in foraging and staying out of trouble," Capoccia said.

Spring went well, and summer was uneventful. The sisters' downfall occurred only recently.

They got into a barn, Capoccia said, and foraged on grain a couple of times. Locking the barn didn't work -- they had received a food reward and figured it made sense to return.

Then last week, Capoccia said, they damaged some property.

"Last fall (with their mother) was their first strike," she said. "This was their second strike."

The siblings were brought to the wildlife center in Montana. They were to be euthanized last Friday, but then the San Francisco Zoo stepped in.

"They got into some mischief," said Mollinedo, who learned of their plight through the grapevine. "You've got to remember, these are two teenage grizzly bears -- they have a lot in common with hominid teenagers." They will be kept in separate exhibits from the zoo's three polar bears and two spectacled bears, and they will lose their anonymity after the zoo sponsors a naming contest.

Although the sisters have been deemed "problem bears," Capoccia said it's not their fault.

"It's been a very, very difficult bear year," she said.

Montana's spring was colder than usual, she said, reducing the berry crop and decreasing the food supply in general.

After the rambunctious teenagers hit town, the San Francisco Zoo will be the only major zoo in the state to feature grizzlies. A mother and two cubs reside in San Bernardino County at Moonridge Animal Park in Big Bear, while a male and female grizzly live at Chaffee Zoo in Fresno.

One Montana sister weighs in at 145 pounds, the other 165. They could hit the 700 mark as adults. Mollinedo said he plans to start a community fund- raising campaign to build them a bigger home. For now, they'll reside at the east end of the bear grotto in an empty exhibit that housed a coyote that died earlier this year. Before the public can see them, they'll be quarantined for at least 30 days.

"These bears are very lucky," Capoccia said. "Normally, it's extremely difficult to find homes. This is a 30-year commitment."

She said most zoos don't have empty exhibits and added that grizzly enclosures are difficult to maintain because the grizzlies are smart enough to use tools and outwit locks.

"The Asian and South American bears are today what grizzlies were 20 years ago in terms of being endangered and in demand in zoos," Capoccia said.

She said the San Francisco-bound bears ate about 10 to 15 pounds of deer meat on Tuesday along with 30 to 40 pounds of fruits and vegetables -- and that was a light day. "They seem mellow," Capoccia said. "They'll adapt well. They're very observant. One will watch the other complete a task and be able to do it perfectly." Acquiring grizzlies was one of those things Mollinedo intended to do -- someday -- when he began running the zoo in February. He hadn't expected it to happen for a few years. "It's very significant to tell the story about grizzlies and what can happen with indigenous animals if we're not careful," he said. Between 1800 and 1975, the population of grizzly bears -- North America's largest omnivore -- declined in the lower 48 states from more than 50,000 to less than 1,000. Grizzlies have been extinct in California since the early 1920s.

It's fitting, to some extent, that the San Francisco Zoo is taking in the doomed Montana pair because a grizzly was the inspiration for the zoo's creation in the first place. In 1889, San Francisco Examiner Publisher William Randolph Hearst donated a grizzly called Monarch to the city. When the bear arrived at the train depot on Townsend Street, 20,000 people welcomed him. It was clear that an actual zoo might draw a crowd. The San Francisco Zoo's most recent grizzly, who went by the name of Greg, died at age 27 in 1989.

Mike Sulak, curator of collections, remembers him. "He certainly was an impressive bear," said Sulak, who has worked at the zoo for 26 years. "The thing that struck me the most was his huge, long nails." Mollinedo doesn't expect any trouble from the Montana sisters. "We're not going to let them have any access to any of our offices or anybody's cabins," he said. "And if they do happen to escape, I'm going to have bigger issues than that. I mean, Farley will really have a field day."

Grizzly facts
Scientific name: Ursus arctos horribilis
Common name: grizzly bear, brown bear.
Distribution: About 30,000 in Alaska but fewer than 1,200 in lower 48 states -- mainly the region around Montana.
Description: Up to 8 feet long and 4 feet high at the shoulder. Weigh from 400 to 1,000 pounds. They can reach speeds up to 35 mph.
Biology: Omnivores that will eat practically anything. Eyesight similar to humans; hearing similar to dogs. Acute sense of smell.
Hibernation: May last from four to seven months during which the bears may lose between 15 and 40 percent of their weight.
Compiled by Johnny Miller, Chronicle research librarian.
Sources: Montana Fish and Wildlife, Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, National Wildlife Federation
E-mail Patricia Yollin at
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