Zoo bears go fishing for trout

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The 50 rainbow trout darting through the bear pool were supposed to outrun Ahpun and Oreo. But it didn't exactly work out that way.

The two Alaska Zoo celebrities -- Ahpun the polar bear and Oreo the grizzly -- had made short work of the last fish placed in their exhibit: The five silver salmon got eaten in 45 minutes in 1999.

This time, zoo managers hoped the speedy rainbows would be too quick for the bears.

By day's end, only about half the trout were left swimming in a school in the deep part of the tank.

The two bears, both females just over 4 years old, grew up together at the zoo. The unlikely bonding of a polar bear and grizzly is the zoo's star attraction.

The zoo stocked the pool with trout Friday afternoon and shut the bears in their dens. By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, about 200 people eager for action had packed the viewing areas in front of the exhibit. A few were betting on the trout. Most thought the bears had a sure thing.

''It's going to be ugly,'' said Kim Welborn, a zoo regular from Anchorage who witnessed the salmon carnage in 1999.

Just after 11 a.m., the bears came out. Ahpun hung back. Oreo headed for the water right away, stuck her head in and came out with a dead trout. She clenched it by the tail, like a silver cigar.

Oreo nibbled at it, showed it off to the crowd, then dropped it on the rocks around the pool before gulping it down. Soon she was back in the water for another dead fish. Then she trapped a few slow-moving trout in drains at the sides of the tank.

Ahpun got one fish, a live one. Then Oreo put her foot down, chasing Ahpun away from the water.

On Saturday, Oreo ruled, catching most of the fish and showing little sympathy for Ahpun's hunger. By early afternoon, Oreo lumbered off and left the pool. All eyes turned to Ahpun. With the brown bear out of sight, the polar bear could finally show her stuff.

Ahpun put her wedge-shaped white head down on her huge white paws and closed her beady black eyes for a nap. That's when the heckling started.

''Come on, Ah-PRUNE,'' yelled one young spectator. ''Ahpun's a wuss,'' said another.

Keepers say Oreo usually dominates Ahpun at feeding time. And it's possible that the polar bear was just pretending to sleep so Oreo would drop her guard, said zoo spokesman Tex Edwards.

''Ahpun is very much the thinker,'' he said.

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