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Fond Farewell: Zoo director recalls Maggie the bear

POSTED December 15, 2011 4:44 p.m.
Courtesy photo/

Maggie, a grizzly bear at the Great Bend-Brit S...

 

 

If there are stars at the Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo, Maggie the grizzly bear was one of them. Her early life in captivity, when she was known as Bear 60, could be described as tragic. But she was rescued in the early 1980s and brought to Great Bend, and in 1984 her photo appeared on the cover of Life magazine.

Maggie died on Dec. 8.

Zoo Director Scott Gregory said the bear was well into her lifespan and suffered from arthritis when the decision was made to put her down. "It got to the point she couldn’t get up to move around," he said. "Sometimes working in a zoo you have to make those decisions on when is it a good time to go through the euthanasia process, and I think on behalf of the zoo staff and veterinarians we all were 100 percent sure it was the right thing to do."

The August 1984 cover story in Life asked the question, "Can People & Grizzlies Coexist?" It was an issue at the time because officials at national parks such as Yellowstone were trying to balance human recreational needs with wildlife management. Although they had limited people's access to remote areas that were prime bear habitat, that summer one woman was killed and another person mauled by grizzlies in separate incidents at Yellowstone.

An excerpt from the Life article reveals a little of Maggie’s early life:

"Separated from her cubs and awaiting execution (by drugs), Bear 60 spent two weeks at the Border Grizzly Project in Missoula, Mont. She was kept in a cell in a former World War II internment camp. In their three-year search for a repellent to deter bears from approaching humans and their food, researchers have tried everything from railroad flares and boat horns to skunk-scented sprays and fast opening umbrellas. Bear 60 was squirted with capsaicin, a derivative of red pepper, in aerosol form. The researchers believed that after several snootfuls, the bear learned her lesson."

"As you can see from that statement she held a rough life to start off with," Gregory said. But, as the article goes on to explain, 1,700 local residents in Montana signed petitions to spare Bear 60. "She was rescued in the early ’80s before her execution and brought to the Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo, where she has been spoiled rotten since."

She shared an enclosure with Max, a male grizzly, but they were not a breeding pair, Gregory said.

"Maggie was a very sweet bear, and the fact her life was saved and brought to reside in Great Bend for the remainder of her life was a major plus for the town," he said. "She was definitely one of the staff favorites, as well as many visitors to the zoo."

After her euthanasia, Maggie was buried in a burial spot owned by the City of Great Bend, but first a necropsy was performed. "Nothing substantial appeared," Gregory said. "Just a well lived bear. On behalf of the staff of the Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo, we’ll miss you Maggie — RIP."


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