A brown bear in Anchorage has been killed after breaking into the Alaska Zoo and killing an alpaca, according to a statement from the zoo.
Caesar, a 16-year-old alpaca, died Saturday night, the zoo said.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss of both a wild bear and Caesar the alpaca,” Zoo Director Patrick Lampi said in the statement.
Caesar’s companion, a younger alpaca named Fuzzy Charlie Kozak, escaped the bear and was found “wide-eyed” elsewhere in the zoo, said Jill Meyer, the zoo’s development director.
The brown bear had apparently been causing trouble in the surrounding neighborhood, by rummaging through trash at night, and it had flipped trash bins at the zoo trying to get inside, according to Anchorage Area Fish and Game Biologist Dave Battle.
That was a problem, Battle said, because brown bears will sometimes try to protect a food source, including trash, and can attack people.
“So we typically remove brown bears that start accessing trash,” Battle said. “And every so often we get a brown bear that learns that when it flips over, even bear-resistant dumpsters, a lot of times it’ll break the mechanism and it’s able to get into the trash.”
Battle said the bear dug under a chainlink fence on the zoo’s northwest corner and walked several hundred yards while inside the zoo before it attacked and killed the alpaca.
It had likely been attracted by many different smells at the zoo, from the animals’ feed to the animals themselves, Battle said.
Zoo staff reinforced the fence where the bear had broken in, and Battle said Fish and Game and Alaska Wildlife Troopers staked out the area Sunday waiting for the bear to return.
And it did: The bear came back to the same spot in the fence Sunday night, while state wildlife officials both inside and outside the zoo tried to get a clear shot, Battle said.
“And we heard it messing with the fence, we thought it was going to break through any second. It was really going after that fence,” Battle said.
The bear didn’t get through, and there was too much vegetation around the fence outside of the zoo to safely shoot it, Battle said. But it came back Monday night, and that’s when a Fish and Game biologist was able to shoot and kill the bear, Battle said.
Battle said the incident was somewhat strange but not surprising.
“Yeah it’s a little odd. It’s a little unusual. But things like that happen,” Battle said. “Bears do all kinds of crazy things.”
It’s also not the first time a bear has broken into the zoo.
Meyer, the Alaska Zoo’s development director, said a bear nicknamed “Trouble” broke in during the early 1990s.
“Trouble broke in, I think, three separate times, just to hang out with one of the other brown bears,” Meyer said. “They would hang out through the fence and touch noses. And they were just good friends.”
Trouble was sedated with a tranquilizer dart and shipped to another zoo where he could have “bear friends,” Meyer said.
Another time, a black bear climbed a tree close to the fence and got in, Meyer said. Zoo staff were able to shoo away that bear, she said.
Meantime, following Saturday’s fatal attack, zoo staff and patrons are mourning Caesar the alpaca, Meyer said.
“He was kind of the unofficial mascot of the zoo,” she said. “Everyone feels just very close to Caesar, he’s a very personable fellow. It was heartbreaking to lose Caesar, especially in that way. To imagine the last moments of his life is really heartbreaking.”
This story has been updated.