Orphaned brown bear cub from Alaska arrives at Woodland Park Zoo

A new brown bear cub arrived at the Woodland Park Zoo this week.

On Wednesday, Woodland Park Zoo welcomed a new brown bear cub, an orphaned female found roaming alone on an air force base near Anchorage, Alaska.

After receiving multiple reports of a lone cub, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) confirmed the mom was nowhere to be found and the cub was too young to survive on her own. The cub, who currently weighs 89 pounds, was born this past winter and is yet to be named.

"Usually bears have a sweet tooth, so we tried drawing her in with glazed donuts," said Cory Stantorf, an assistant biologist for ADFG. "However, this cub showed no interest in the donuts — she only looked, but wouldn’t enter. Fortunately, one of our agents had Vienna sausages in his lunch, so we used those as an attractant instead, and she liked the sausages!" 

Stantorf helped bring the orphaned cub to Alaska Zoo, who provided her with care and a temporary home. According to ADFG, the mom could have been hit by a vehicle, killed by another brown bear or killed illegally. Woodland Park Zoo offered the cub a permanent home, and she traveled to Seattle by Alaska Air Cargo.

Alaska Air Cargo transported the new cub from Anchorage to Seattle.

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The last time the zoo received brown bears was in 1994, when brothers Keema and Denali arrived as 10-month-old cubs from Washington State University Bear Center. Denali passed away from old age in December 2020 just weeks shy of his 27th birthday, leaving Keema as the zoo’s only grizzly bear. Male grizzly bears have a median life expectancy of 21 years in human care, and often less in the wild. 

"I am told this cub is sassy and a spitfire," said Kevin Murphy, interim senior director of Animal Management at Woodland Park Zoo. "Her spirit will help make her a great addition to our zoo family. Brown bears are an iconic species, and this new cub is a symbol of hope to restore grizzlies in the North Cascades. We look forward to sharing our new cub with our community."

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At her new home, the cub will live in a naturalistic setting that includes a flowing stream, rocks and tree stumps, a swimming pool with live fish and a quiet cave for winter naps.

Brown bears are generally solitary in nature but come together at concentrated feeding areas and during mating season. The zoo’s new cub will live separately from Keema until she’s ready to be introduced to the outdoor exhibit.

"This is a very young, curious cub who’s going to explore every nook and cranny of the exhibit — areas that Keema hasn’t ventured into in recent years due to his age and reduced mobility and activity. We need to be prepared for this determined, rambunctious bear!" said Murphy.

Over the next few weeks, the zoo’s animal keepers will help her settle into her new home by conducting behavioral training, introducing her to a nutritious diet and getting her acquainted with her new caretakers. 

Meanwhile, the zoo’s exhibits team will make modifications to the bear exhibit including baby-proofing, refreshing safety barriers and adding vegetation. 

"Decades of effort and research make it clear that grizzlies — once a critical component of the North Cascades ecosystem, where they roamed for thousands of years — are now unable to recover without human assistance," said Robert Long, PhD, director of Woodland Park Zoo’s Living Northwest Conservation Program. "It’s time to bring the grizzly back to the North Cascades."