By Linda Weiford, WSU News
PULLMAN, Wash. – Wide-eyed children and adults are turning out in high numbers to view the grizzlies at Washington State University’s Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center on the east edge of campus. The giant predators take dips in the steel pool, roll on the grass and smack their massive paws at each other within the two-acre enclosure.
Steady crowds have been showing up at the facility since the 11 grizzly bears emerged from hibernation in early April, said director and wildlife biologist Charlie Robbins.
“We’re getting visitors of all ages arriving in buses, cars, vans and even pedaling bikes. The numbers are up over previous years,” said Robbins, who founded the center 28 years ago.
Spectators at the chain-link fence gawk when a bear roars or one of the males stands on its hind legs, reaching nearly seven feet tall. Seeing the grizzlies devour leftover doughnuts, croissants and apple turnovers donated by a local grocery store draws exclamations as well.
The bear center is home to four grizzlies that were hand-reared as cubs and seven “problem bears” living in the wild that otherwise would have been killed, said Robbins. He and other WSU researchers are gaining insights into grizzly behavior, nutritional needs, physiology and ecology.
Donations left in a metal box by the gate help with food purchases for the bears. Considering the males weigh 500 pounds and the females close to 400, keeping them fed is no small feat, Robbins said.
“They’re huge eating machines.”