Grizzly facility makes debut at S.F. Zoo

Only two and a half years removed from their mother’s euthanasia, orphaned grizzly bear sisters Kiona and Kachina now have something to be happy about. The Hearst Grizzly Gulch, a newly constructed bear dwelling facility at the San Francisco Zoo, will celebrate its grand opening today.

The $3.7 million, one-acre habitat, located in the east wing of the zoo, is equipped with a 20,000-gallon pool, heated rocks, a waterfall and an herb meadow. San Francisco Zoo is now one of only three animal facilities in the state that house grizzly bears.

“These bears are a reminder that humans have to learn to coexist with wildlife,” said Paul Garcia, public relations manager at the San Francisco Zoo.

However, it has been a long journey to San Francisco for the bears. Sired in Montana, the bears lost their mother when she was euthanized after ransacking a rancher’s grain supply.

Montana conservationist Cindy Poett had hoped the girls “would just go their own ways and become wild bears” after their mother’s death. But they, like their mother, rummaged a rancher’s grain storage. They were scheduled for euthanasia less than three years ago.

Poett then started efforts to find a home for the bears. She phoned Fred Carroll, Hearst Grizzly Gulch campaign chair at the San Francisco Zoo, just days prior to the bears’ execution. “From what I understood, these bears were raising hell in the communities,” Carroll said.

Though Carroll didn’t hesitate to take the bears, financing to house the sisters was an issue, Poett said. The William Randolph Hearst Foundation donated $1 million to the facility while zoo directors raised the rest through private donations.

The sister bears, then nameless and only 18 months old, arrived at the zoo weighing 200 pounds each. Today, the feistier Kachina weighs 360 pounds, while her bigger, laid-back sister Kiona weighs 410 pounds. Female grizzlies reach their full size around the age of 7 or 8. “Kachina is the scrappier one who usually starts the fight,” said Deb Cano, the zoo’s bearkeeper.

The sisters’ daily diet consists of 2 pounds of fish, 14 pounds of produce, a horse bone and bear chow. “When they smell the cherry pie filling, they just come running,” Carroll said.

Grizzly bears were numerous in the Golden State long ago. “The last grizzly bear that was shot on record in California was in 1922 in Tulare County,” Garcia said.

Construction for the facility began Jan. 27.

One of the gulch’s features expected to be very popular with visitors is the underwater view of the bear pool.

GRIZZLY BEARS

AT A GLANCE

<b>» Average life span: 25-30 years.

» Daily diet: 2 pounds of fish, 14 pounds of produce, one horse bone, bear chow.

» Adult weight for females: As much as 700-800 pounds.

» Factoid 1: S.F. Zoo’s first grizzly bear was named “Monarch” by Examiner publisher William Randolph Hearst in the 1890s.

» Factoid 2: Now-extinct California Grizzly Bear appears on state flag.

aterrazas@examiner.com

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