Visitors to the St. Louis Zoo will be able to watch two grizzly bear cubs from Montana starting Friday.
The male, Huckleberry and female, Finley, are both 2 1/2 years old. They and their mother were found disturbing residences and livestock, posing a risk to public safety. Montana wildlife officials killed the mother and sent the cubs to St. Louis Zoo, because zoo officials already had plans to revamp the grizzly bear exhibit.
Grizzly bears have been classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced at the end of July that the Yellowstone population improved enough to be taken off the federal protection list.
"They're a top predator," said Steve Bircher, curator for mammals and carnivores at the Zoo. "They help maintain a healthy environment in the wild, maintaining prey species. They're also seed dispersers, so they're an important part of the environment."
The cubs are housed at the new Centene Grizzly Ridge exhibit, which cost $11.1 million. The space includes a pond, a waterfall and grassy areas that were designed to be similar to the wild.
Researchers at the zoo are monitoring the bears' hormone levels and collecting fecal samples to study stress levels and check on how the cubs are adjusting to their new surroundings. Bircher said it's clear that the bears are enjoying their new home.
"We started seeing play behaviors, play wrestling. They're using all aspects of their habitat. They're very playful, so they're still like kids," Bircher said.
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