Grizzly bears now on display at Reid Park Zoo

2013-09-19T00:00:00Z Grizzly bears now on display at Reid Park ZooBy Veronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

After spending two months getting used to their new digs and keepers, sibling grizzly bears Finley and Ronan will be on display in their recently renovated habitat at the Reid Park Zoo starting today.

The brother and sister grizzlies will roam in the enclosure that once held Snow, the zoo’s 17-year-old polar bear, who died last year.

The Grizzly Crossing exhibit includes a stream, a grassy area and a large pool.

Ronan and Finley were brought to the zoo from Montana in July, when they were 18 months old, after being deemed dangerous in a residential area for raiding chicken coops, breaking into barns for grain and eating from garbage cans, behaviors they learned from their mother.

The bears were first relocated, but they returned to the area and resumed their behaviors, and their mother was eventually euthanized.

When Montana wildlife officials notified the zoo that the cubs were available, the zoo eagerly agreed to help rescue them, said Vivian VanPeenen, a zoo spokeswoman.

“They had been through a lot; they were not in great shape,” VanPeenen said. “One had foot injuries and bite marks. They had a rough start to life.”

So far in Tucson, the bears have worked with keepers to adjust to zoo life, which includes learning how to go through doors to get into their enclosure and getting used to new sights and sounds.

“They didn’t know what metal buckets were, so if you delivered food or placed a bucket on the ground, it would startle them,” VanPeenen said.

The bears also had to get used to being so close to humans , she said.

But the bears have been fast learners, and once they were more comfortable in their new surroundings, keepers began operant conditioning, ongoing training that rewards them for good behavior and responding to specific cues, VanPeenen said.

Ronan, the male bear, is darker and bigger than his sister. His favorite treats are meat, fish, dry chow, carrots and sweet potatoes.

Finley may appear a bit more nervous on display than her brother, but she is really smart and astute, VanPeenen said. And she loves Popsicles.

The bear pair were to be introduced to the public during a special breakfast this morning .

The zoo will host a Greet the Grizzlies event with bear-themed activities, face painting and games from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The event is free with zoo admission.

Contact reporter Veronica M. Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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