Grizzly bears feeling at home in new exhibit at St. Louis Zoo

The St. Louis Zoo opened a new exhibit September introducing two new grizzly bears to the park. Grizzly Ridge is a state-of-the-art exhibit located where the original bear grottos were from earlier years. It houses two grizzly bears, they are brother and sister named Huckleberry and Finley. Zoo fans voted on the bears’ names, both are related to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

The grizzlies were shipped from Montana to St. Louis just days before the exhibit was set to open. Both bears are young, roughly 9-10 months old and have begun exploring the new exhibit. Since the bears are still young they aren’t accustomed to being in nature, which helps with adjustment to captivity.

The exhibit is overseen by Steve Bircher, curator of mammals and carnivores. He has been with the St. Louis Zoo for 39 years. Bircher monitors all carnivores at the zoo including the bears, big cats, and California sea lions.

“We’re seeing a lot of exploratory behaviors,” Bircher said. “They’re spending a lot of their time smelling, looking, and checking different aspects of the new habitat.”

According to Bircher the grizzly bears seem to not worry about being introduced to the public. Bircher said the zoo does not plan to bring more grizzlies to the exhibit, but it is built to be used for breeding in the future. The bears have shown all kinds of positive behaviors since being introduced to the exhibit. Both bears spent part of their childhood in the wilds of Montana before being put into captivity. The St. Louis Zoo acquired the bears from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the Montana Game and Fish Department after the mother was euthanized for her own safety.

“Normally we can acquire animals from other Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facilities,” Bircher said. “But we try to work with the federal and state agencies as we have with the brown bears [meaning the grizzlies].”

Trista Strauch, an animal science professor at the University of Missouri, said she believes the animals should be comfortable at the St. Louis Zoo because it is an AZA affiliated zoological park with advantages. Strauch said she plans to take her family to see the new exhibit.

The zoo is also home to several other species of bear such as the polar bear, Malayan sun bear, and Andean bear. Compared to some of the other bears, the grizzlies are not very large.

“Kali, the male polar bear, is quite a bit larger than the grizzlies,” Bircher said. “He is now weighing 1,250-1,300 lbs. and these kids are much smaller.”

Bircher will oversee how the bears fare over the next few months as winter rolls around. In captivity, bears do not hibernate the same as they would in the wild. St. Louis zoo gives its bears the opportunity to hibernate if they please, but typically the bears tend to stick to their regular scheduled daily feedings and exhibit exploration. These grizzlies may deal with hibernation differently though, only the upcoming months can tell.

The St. Louis Zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for holidays and special events. Admission to the zoo and select parking is free. The grizzlies can be seen daily, year-round. More information about the bears and exhibit can be found on the zoo’s website.