ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Zoo has three new residents who may be heading to other homes - triplet grizzly bear cubs captured outside Hoonah. They may join a fourth cub being sent to a park in Mexico.
"They only got here Thursday, and they're a little bit panicked," caretaker Thomas "Smitty" Smith told a crowd gathered Sunday to watch a mid-afternoon snack being fed to the cubs at the Anchorage zoo. "You might see a little bit of fighting.
"They're siblings, and one of them is already becoming dominant."
Only 4 to 5 months old and weighing about 20 pounds each, the healthy triplets were captured Thursday and flown to Anchorage on a U.S. Forest Service charter and an Alaska Airlines jet.
Since May, the mother bear and cubs had been a common sight near Hoonah, a village of 800 about 35 miles southwest of Juneau, said animal control officer Ingrid Boettcher.
"She was teaching them to fish right alongside the main road," Boettcher said. "She became part of the family for a lot of people."
But in mid-June, the mother bear disappeared, leaving the still-nursing cubs alone. People began searching for the mom, and many became convinced she had been poached. Troopers are investigating.
"The whole town was kind of in an uproar, wondering what had happened to Momma," Boettcher said.
Last week, volunteers from a nearby logging camp searched the woods for the bruin family and found the cubs, which were obviously hungry. On Thursday morning, they treed them, cut down the tree and delivered the cubs in a dog kennel to Boettcher at Hoonah Animal Control.
She fed them dog bones, then infant formula and blueberries. "It was amazing how they really came to life," Boettcher said.
Zoo officials say one possible destination for the cubs is the cool mountains of central Mexico. A zoo in Morelia, at 7,000 feet in the mountains northeast of Guadalajara, has a new bear exhibit and no bears.
The same zoo had already arranged to adopt another Alaska Zoo cub under the supervision of a bear advisory group with the American Zoological Association, according to zoo director Tex Edwards. That cub, nicknamed Chinitna, was captured a few weeks ago at Chinitna Bay on the west side of Cook Inlet.
"It's a little bit unusual for the zoo to accept orphaned bear cubs," Edwards said. "There's so many of them, and we do not have a permanent home. ... In this case, we're really happy to help."
In the meantime, the bears get fed five times a day with a special concoction of milk supplement, puppy chow, rice, salmon bits and bananas.