Q&A with Matt Thompson 

Curator of mammals at the Memphis Zoo

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Three grizzly bear cubs — orphaned after their mother was shot and killed by a hiker near Yellowstone National Park — found a new home at the Memphis Zoo last week.

The Wyoming cubs, along with two other grizzly orphans from Alaska, will be the stars of the zoo's $16 million Teton Trek exhibit. The new exhibit will highlight the ecosystems of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park and is scheduled to open in October.

Flyer: What happened during the attack in Wyoming?

Matt Thompson: It was a bad day for man and bear. The guy ended up in the hospital, and, from what we understand, he's still in the hospital and in really bad shape.

The bear was just being a good mom. It's very unusual for a bear to raise three cubs. One almost always dies. Somehow the hiker stumbled across the bear, and she attacked him. A mother bear with cubs is very dangerous.

The hiker had a firearm on him, and he ended up killing the bear. That left the three cubs, who were not weaned. So the forest service trapped them in fox traps, and they called us.

How did bears from Wyoming end up in Memphis?

One of our staff, Gail Carr, is the point person for placing orphaned grizzly bears. She also works with the Bear Species Survival Plan. They called her on placement, and she knew that I had been actively looking. For us, it was a perfect situation. We didn't have any grizzly bears at the zoo.

Are there special measures being taken to prepare wild bear cubs for life in a zoo environment?

The biggest thing is giving them some peace and quiet and not exposing them to people constantly. They're under quarantine in our zoo hospital right now.

The biggest first step is to get them to eat, because they weren't weaned. They're taking milk and a gruel that we're making up for them, and they're also eating fruit and vegetables.

Since grizzly bears are accustomed to cooler climates, how will they fare in the hot Memphis weather?

During the summer, we'll provide plenty of shade. Their night houses are air-conditioned. Of all the bears, grizzlies are the most adaptable. They won't mind the heat that much, to be honest. They're not like polar bears.

What will the Teton Trek exhibit be like?

At the entrance, there will be a building inspired by the Old Faithful Inn. That's a historic log cabin inn they have at Yellowstone.

There will be our version of Old Faithful in front of that, a fountain kids can play in. Then you'll go through and see an acre-sized grizzly bear exhibit that has a stream that runs through it and a waterfall. There will be a fishing area where the grizzlies can fish, and you'll be able to see them catch fish underwater. You'll see arctic waterfowl, wolves, and elk. The whole idea is to make it feel like you're in a national park in that part of the country.


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