Zoo Fills Up With Bears as Willow Shooting Makes 2 More Orphans

10 TOTAL: Man kills angry grizzly sow just as neighbor scares blackies from porch

Katie Pesznecker / Anchorage daily News / June 14, 2004

A sow grizzly bear killed a moose calf in a Willow man's back yard, then was shot and killed by the homeowner as it closed in on the man's dog and the dead calf's mother.

The resident, Kenneth Turner, then heard gunshots. Turns out his next-door neighbor had a black bear and three cubs on his back porch, said Greg Wilkinson, spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers.

The chaotic multispecies showdown early Friday left the grizzly's two cubs orphaned. They're at the Alaska Zoo, leaving the zoo with four cubs and a total of 10 bears, more than anyone can remember having at once, said Thomas "Smitty" Smith, a zookeeper.

The new arrivals are clearly traumatized, Smith said. When allowed in the same space, they violently fought and had to be separated again, he said.

"They were taking all their stress out on each other," Smith said. "I'm sure they don't know what just happened, but they know Mom is gone. Whether their little minds are saying 'My mom was just killed' -- I don't think so. What they do know is she's no longer with them, and they're lost right now."

The ordeal began early Friday at Turner's home on a wooded lot in a subdivision at the end of Haigon Shores Road. His house is 75 yards from Jean Lake.

Sometime around 2 a.m., a mother moose and calf walked onto Turner's property. Then the hungry grizzly showed up with her two cubs and everything got crazy.

"She gets in between the cow and the calf," Wilkinson said. "The calf runs up right next to this man's house. And the bear runs up and kills the calf right next to this guy's porch."

Turner's dog, a black Labrador mix, was outside and barking furiously. Turner came out of the house and tried to scare the bear off but the sow immediately charged him, Wilkinson said.

Turner, 31, darted for the house and tried to get his dog to follow but it wouldn't come, Wilkinson said.

"Then the grizzly starts chasing the dog," the troopers spokesman continued. "The mother moose comes over to see how the calf is doing. The calf is dead. Then the grizzly starts chasing the cow, and the dog starts chasing the grizzly. And the cubs are chewing on the calf while Mom is chasing the moose."

Turner ended the melee moments later when he returned with a .300 Winchester Magnum and shot and killed the grizzly. He also chased the cubs up a tree, about 40 yards from his house.

Then Turner heard gunshots -- his neighbor's, fired to scare off the black bears.

When wildlife enforcement trooper Jimmy Jones arrived that morning, the cubs were still in a single tree. He and Gino Del Frate, the area biologist for the Department of Fish and Game, finally got one cub down, but it immediately scampered up another tree.

After several hours, Del Frate climbed the spruce tree where the female cub clung. She kept climbing as he pursued her to the top, where he injected her with a sedative. Several minutes later, he took the groggy cub into his arms and climbed down.

The second bear, a male, was in a taller birch tree. Again, Del Frate went all the way to the top to sedate and retrieve the cub.

"It's not the easiest thing to do, climbing down a tree with a 30-pound bear in your arms," Del Frate said.

He set the bears in the shallow waters of the lake's edge to cool them off. Then Del Frate loaded them into dog kennels and headed for the Alaska Zoo.

Jones lingered to help Turner skin the 350-pound sow, now laid out on a tarp on the lawn. Jones left the Turner residence at 7 p.m., delivered the bear's hide to a trapper and returned home at 10:30 p.m. -- 12 hours after he'd first arrived on scene.

Del Frate said the sow was young, 5 or 6 years old.

"This might have even been her first litter," he said.
He was surprised to find her so close to town, in a place with so many people, and with cubs in tow. Maybe she passed through there as a cub, before there were homes, Del Frate said.

"That's what happens when you interface between civilization and wilderness," he said. "It's one of those things."

The orphaned cubs are sharing an empty wolverine pen and are separated by a partition. Smith is confident the siblings will find a home in the Lower 48.

Several zoos and wildlife parks already have asked about getting cubs from the zoo. There were already two cubs there, orphaned when their mother was shot and killed in South Anchorage after charging a man near his home, north of Rabbit Creek Road.

The zoo's newest cubs are napping a lot, near each other, said Smith, the zookeeper. Staff members plan to try removing the divider between them Tuesday, he said.

"We figure (the fighting) was just the trauma of everything," Smith said. "The loss of their mother, the capture, the transportation, Mom not being around. Right now I think they're just aware that Mom's not there and their life has taken a dramatic change."

Daily News reporter Katie Pesznecker can be reached at kpesznecker@adn.com

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