Local bear sanctuary celebrates 12 years

By MEGAN AHERN/Montana State News

Montana Grizzly Encounter a Bozeman bear sanctuary and public education center, commemorated 12th successful year on Jan. 17. Co-owner and founder Ami Testa had two reasons to celebrate. Not only did it signify the sanctuary’s continued success, Testa added that the day also marked the birthday of the first bear adopted by the sanctuary, Brutus.

Brutus, now 14, was rescued from an unethical breeding program when he was just weeks old, according to Testa. He lived in the Testa household with her, her husband Bill Testa, and their black lab, Jett, until the sanctuary was completed in 2004, according to Ami Testa. Since its completion, it has served as both a sanctuary for grizzly bears and a center for public education, she said.

The educational aspect is a key component of MGE, and intern Morgan Kimball says, something that can prevent bear and human fatalities every year. The lectures presented at the sanctuary aim to teach visitors that fear of grizzly bears is unnecessary when one is armed with the knowledge to prevent, minimalize, or inhibit a wild encounter, Kimball said.

Ami Testa said, “People do not protect what they fear, they fight for and protect what they love. Grizzly bears need protection.”

Bill Testa says he has hopes to continue improving the sanctuary to make it the best possible home for captive grizzly bears. Expansion isn’t likely however, as Ami Testa says she doesn’t want to take habitat away from wild bears in the area.

According to Kimball, “The bears run the show,” a fact that was evident when MGE’s oldest bear Sheena, 30, turned up her nose at her birthday cupcake and was instead offered her favorite – chicken nuggets.

MGE relies heavily on money and food donations. Those interested in donating can do so by visiting the sanctuary since a large portion of the $7 entrance fee directly benefits the bears, according to Bill Testa. Contributions can be made on the MGE website, http://www.grizzlyencounter.org.

– Edited by Alexandra Dubin

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