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ZooMontana unveils grizzly cubs to the public

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Grizzly cubs at ZooMontana
Two of the three grizzly cubs play Friday in the bear exhibit at ZooMontana. The three new cubs were let into the exhibit for the first time on Friday since their capture near Cooke City last summer. Photo by DAVID GRUBBS/Billings Gazette

BILLINGS - Coy they are not.

The three grizzly bear cubs at ZooMontana - Dolly, Lou Lou and Koda - met the public for the first time on Friday and hammed it up all morning.

"They're really cute when they play in the water," said Kayla Wayman, 8.

In fact, Dolly spent most of the morning in the pool, playing with the big blue barrels floating there. At one point, she suddenly jumped out of the water and chased after one of her siblings, clearly surprising the two dozen visitors watching from the observation deck.

Within moments, Dolly had pounced on her sibling and the two playfully wrestled, much to the laughter and surprise of everyone watching.

"Oh, look at him!" someone exclaimed.

"This is so neat," another added.

Michelle Wayman was there with her two daughters, Kayla and Alison, 4, and friend Brooke Cicierski, 9. Wayman has Alison enrolled in ZooMontana's preschool, so they've been following the cubs' progress for months.

"(Alison) has been waiting to see these bears for a long time," Michelle Wayman said.

The cubs came to the zoo after their mother was euthanized. The mother and cubs killed a Michigan man and injured two others as they slept at Soda Butte Campground outside Cooke City in late July of last year.

The cubs arrived at the zoo shortly after the attack, malnourished and small. They were placed in quarantine as caretakers worked to rid them of parasites.

Friday was their first full day on public display in their ZooMontana habitat. They appeared to have no problems with the crowd, continually trotting close to the observation glass or swimming in the pool directly in front of it.

"It's just exciting," said Linda Vihinhen, who was at the zoo with her daughter, Leslie Vihinhen, and granddaughter, Cara Vihinhen.

"They're just having so much fun. That's what's so neat about it," she said.

It was a cold day at the zoo. Snow flurries blew most of the morning and a chilly breeze whipped around the grounds, something that worried ZooMontana's Dan Lundquist, director of marketing and development.

But it wasn't enough to keep people away.

"I was extremely encouraged by the support," Lundquist said.

Visitors were still at the park in late afternoon and Lundquist said the zoo probably had 200 people come through its gates.

"We did have a pretty good turnout despite the weather," he said.

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