BILLINGS - After nearly two months of quarantine, two rescued grizzly cubs are on display at ZooMontana.
The cubs originally lived near Eureka but were orphaned after their mother was euthanized because she had become too comfortable with people. After spending some time in a rehab facility in Helena, the bears eventually made their way to Billings.
Since then, ZooMontana Director Jeff Ewelt and his team have been monitoring the bears during their quarantine. Ewelt had originally hoped that the quarantine would last a month, but it ended up being a little longer as the bears were infested with parasites.
But last week, the cubs, named George and Willy after George Strait and Willy Nelson, were finally given the chance to test out their new home, much to the excitement of Ewelt.
"We're excited to have our new bear cubs here, obviously out here for everybody to see," Ewelt said Monday morning. "Let them play, let them be bears, and let them learn their life at ZooMontana."
Zoo visitors on Monday echoed Ewelt's excitement. Some, like Kristie Lacasse and her family, even came just to see the new additions.
"We just came out to see the bears," Lacasse said. "We saw on Facebook that they were out, and so we made a special trip this morning. It was fun and they were great."
Others, like Jeremy Countryman and his family, were pleasantly surprised. The Countrymans live in Big Timber and were visiting as an early birthday gift for their son.
"We didn't know they had new bears here," Countryman said. "We were pretty excited to come here anyways, and getting to see the new bears is awesome."
While the circumstance of the bears coming to ZooMontana is tragic, Ewelt said it's an unfortunate circumstance that happens often in Montana.
"Every year, there are bears that need homes," Ewelt said. "We wish that wasn't the case, but with human encroachment, bears get themselves into trouble in cabins, campsites and whatnot."
But for these cubs, it ended up being good timing. ZooMontana was looking to fill the void of Bruno, their beloved Grizzly bear, who had recently died.
"We knew we wanted to bring some other bears in, really for Ozzy, our other bear," Ewelt said. "He needed that companionship and that company so the timing worked out perfectly that we could bring these two in and give them a really good home."
The cubs haven't met Ozzy yet. Ewelt said that will be a bit of a delicate process beginning in the spring because male grizzlies are often aggressive with cubs. Still, Ewelt is confident they'll eventually warm up to one another, which will be great for both the animals and zoo visitors.
"Ozzy is a bear that likes companionship," Ewelt said. "So, to have two little brothers to play with and be around and kind of get him to move a bit, that's going to do wonders for his health too."
Two new additions to ZooMontana that are already making their presence felt.
"Just to see a bear, just to get to watch them and not have to worry for my life is a real blessing," Countryman said.