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Orphaned grizzly cubs headed to Memphis, Tenn.

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BILLINGS - Three orphaned grizzly bear cubs are heading for Tennessee from ZooMontana.

The cubs - two males and a female - were brought to the Billings zoo last week by officials with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department after their mother was killed last Sunday in northern Wyoming. The bear was killed by Jerry Ruth, who was mauled before he was able to shoot the bear. Ruth is being treated for his injuries at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.

The encounter happened near Clark, Wyo., when Ruth and another man came across the bears in the foothills outside the small town north of Cody. Wyoming game officials captured the cubs shortly after the incident.

Jackie Worstell, executive director of ZooMontana, said the 2-month-old cubs were kept in the zoo's grizzly bear exhibit. Wyoming officials asked to temporarily place the bears at the zoo while waiting for the Memphis Zoo to obtain the necessary permits to bring the animals to that facility, Worstell said.

The cubs were loaded into a trailer Friday by an employee of the Denver Zoo who specializes in animal transports, Worstell said. The trip to Memphis was expected to take two days, she said.

The cubs were kept in a holding area at the grizzly bear exhibit, which is home to Bruno, a brown bear brought to Billings from the zoo in Knoxville, Tenn. The cubs and the adult male bear were kept separated, Worstell said.

The cubs were scared, but did well during the brief stay in Billings, Worstell said. It was clear the young bears were not used to people, she said, and one cub charged a zoo worker. The largest cub, one of the males, weighed about 40 pounds, while the other two weighed about 20 pounds, Worstell said.

The cubs are being sent to the Memphis Zoo because that facility was first on a list to receive orphaned bears, Worstell said.

Brian Carter, a spokesman for the Memphis Zoo, said when the cubs arrive they will be kept in a secure area that is not part of an exhibit. The bears will be placed later this year in the zoo's new exhibit on four acres, called Teton Trek, he said.

"We're very excited about getting these cubs," Carter said. "They will be the centerpiece and the stars of the new exhibit."

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