Dodge was one of three Kodiak brown bears rescued in May. His brothers went to a zoo in Wisconsin. Dodge came to Toledo Zoo and has bonded with two female grizzlies.
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Toledo Zoo officials expect Montana, one of two grizzly cubs at the zoo, will go on public display with her sister Cody and their new pal, Dodge, this summer.
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An orphaned Kodiak brown bear is getting comfortable and bonding strongly with two female grizzly cubs at the Toledo Zoo.
Dodge was one of three male cubs rescued in May after their mother was killed by hunters on Kodiak Island off the southern coast of Alaska. The cubs would have been three or four months old at the time and completely dependent on their mother.
“They were very young, had never left the den,” said Dr. Randi Meyerson, assistant director of animal programs at the zoo.
A hunting party guided by Harry Dodge, for whom the Toledo bear is named, found the mother bear’s carcass and realized she had cubs. They located her den and found the babies in a desperate state.
“They were in the den at least three or four days without food or warmth,” said Nathan Svoboda, wildlife biologist for Kodiak Island with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “They might not have lived another night.”
It is illegal to kill a sow that has cubs. Mr. Svoboda said Alaska Wildlife troopers investigated the incident and decided not to charge or ticket the hunters responsible for the bear’s death because they did not know about the cubs.
Mr. Svoboda said this is only the second time in about 35 years that Kodiak bear cubs have been relocated.
The state’s policy does not favor removing wildlife.
“We typically let nature take its course,” Mr. Svoboda said. “This was somewhat of a unique circumstance in that we had a couple of zoos looking for cubs and were able to place them.”
Rehabilitating brown bears for release back into the wild is generally a futile effort, he said. Adult male bears will kill any young bears they come across, and raising cubs to adulthood means they become too accustomed to humans.
The Toledo Zoo has partnered with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust to educate the public about issues surrounding human-wildlife conflict. Jeff Sailer, executive director, said bears are one of many species that illustrate the problem.
“It’s ongoing, and continues to increase because people are spreading,” he said. “There is wildlife conflict on a daily basis all over the United States.”
The Kodiak cubs were hand-reared at the Alaska Zoo for about six months before two were sent to Wildwood Park & Zoo in Marshfield, Wis., and Dodge came to Toledo.
Dodge arrived in October, about two months after the zoo received two female grizzly cubs rescued from Yellowstone National Park. Montana and Cody were orphaned when wildlife officials killed their mother in August after she killed and fed on a hiker.
Kodiak bears and grizzlies are both subspecies of brown bear. About 120 brown bears are scattered across the country in 37 zoos accredited by Association of Zoos and Aquariums, according to a spokesman for the organization. Associated zoos do not breed brown or black bears, leaving space open for rescued bears.
Cody is one of two grizzly bears taken in by the Toledo Zoo from Yellowstone National Park after they lost their mother. The grizzlies were shy, but are now bonding with their keepers.
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The three Toledo cubs, all about a year old, have not been on exhibit while they acclimate. Because he had never left the den before being hand-reared, Dodge has adjusted quickly.
Montana and Cody were several months older when they lost their mother. The zoo has allowed them to acclimate at their own pace, which has been significantly slower than Dodge.
“You try to have everything be positive. You give them the space and availability to get out of sight if they want to, and you don’t force anything on them,” Dr. Meyerson said. “You just let them see that nothing scary or bad will happen. They eventually get curious.”
The females were very shy when they arrived in Toledo, but are now bonding with their keepers.
“We use the same staff so they can acclimate and bond before you bring new people in,” Dr. Meyerson said. “The girls really like grapes, and we would encourage them to come to us for grapes.”
The three cubs are provided with enrichment throughout the day. They are given items such as perches and trees to climb on, logs to claw, boomer balls to play with, areas to dig in, and bones to gnaw.
“We give them a lot of stuff to build their muscles because they are growing,” Mr. Sailer said. “And we give them opportunities to forage for their food, so it’s not just handed to them.”
Because of their easy access to a rich, fish-heavy diet, wild Kodiak bears grow faster and larger than grizzlies. Dodge is already about 250 pounds and could grow to 1,200 pounds or more. The female grizzlies weigh about 200 pounds now, and may reach 600 to 700 pounds.
After quarantine, Dodge was placed in an enclosure adjacent to Montana and Cody, allowing the bears to first see and smell each other without being able to touch.
“When they were first within visual contact of each other, the little male would push his toys through the fence to try to get [the females] to come over and play,” Mr. Sailer said.
The three were combined about a month ago, and Dodge has bonded particularly strongly with Cody. The rambunctious bears are doing very well together.
“They’re always rolling around and playing,” Dr. Meyerson said. “They sleep together in one big lump.”
While Dodge is helping the females acclimate to humans, they are returning the favor in another way.
“They bring in a lot more natural bear behaviors for him to learn since he never had the chance,” Mr. Sailer said.
The bears are learning to respond to their names, move between holding areas, and separate at feeding times.
The zoo is refurbishing the former lion exhibit for the bears after two white lions died last year of health complications. The bears will be allowed to get adjusted in the space and will be trained to move off-exhibit when called before they will be available for public viewing, Dr. Meyerson said.
The zoo expects the bears to go on public exhibit sometime this summer.