Between April and July, we’ve heard about more deadly encounters with grizzly bears across Montana. One year ago, another grizzly near West Yellowstone nearly met a similar fate but found a rare opportunity to use his skills for good.
More likely than not, grizzly bear encounters end in tragic stories of both human loss and bear loss. That was almost the case for one bear named “Bo” who now resides at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (GWDC) in West Yellowstone.
In July 2020, Bo was causing serious trouble at the Rainbow Point campground in West Yellowstone.
Now, one year later, Bo has a job.
“We heard about Bo getting into that campground and we knew that the outcome was likely to not be good,” said GWDC naturalist Tut Fuentevilla. “A year later, he’s adjusted very, very well.”
In West Yellowstone, Bo was like the 450-pound grizzly bear version of Frank Abagnale, from the movie “Catch Me If You Can”.
He’s a professional food thief that, as Fuentevilla puts it, went from hot water to full employment—with benefits.
“He is enthusiastic about playing with some of the other young bears, Seeley and Condi, that he comes out with sometimes. He’s enthusiastic about exploring what we call the ‘enrichment’ in the habitat.
Back in July of last year at the Rainbow Point campground, Bo was ripping through coolers and tents—and even sleeping on the hood of a truck at one point while a family took shelter inside.
Which brings us to his current occupation:
“Bo has been helping us test what we call bear-resistant containers, and these are products that are designed to be difficult for bears to get into,” Fuentevilla said. “By using them properly, people can really deny wild bears the opportunities to learn the kinds of lessons that got Bo and the other bears that live here into trouble.”
Whether it’s a cooler, a dumpster—even one of the big ones you see in Yellowstone National Park—it’s Bo’s job to crack them.
“That’s hard. It’s hard to design a container that humans can use effectively but bears cannot,” said Fuentevilla.
Bears like Bo are life-residents at GWDC, with the oldest being Sam, a nearly 1,000-pound fella who was born in Alaska back in 1996.
Each bear at GWDC has had its own people problems.
WATCH: The Bears of the Grizzy & Wolf Discovery Center
But Fuentevilla says Bo, like the rest, has gotten to live as naturally as possible: a rare end to stories like his.
“Getting to see him have fun out there, getting to see him play, getting to see him explore new things, it’s like you are watching an animal that has thoughts of its own, has some feelings and we can’t perfectly understand them. But it’s great to be able to see that, see that life ahead of him,” said Fuentevilla.
According to the naturalists at GWDC, 80 percent of grizzly bear issues involving habitualization with humans and human food rewards end in that animal having to be put down.
At least six grizzly bears have already been euthanized this season in Montana, including a grizzly bear near Ovando that killed a California woman who was camping in the area.
In another incident near West Yellowstone, backcountry guide Charles Mock died from injuries sustained from a grizzly bear mauling. A male bear was shot and killed in connection with that incident.