Four bears dodged death, get custom quarters at Oakland Zoo

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Four furry felons who escaped death by moving into the Oakland Zoo last year now have custom-made quarters there, a spokeswoman said today.

The four black bears moved into the zoo in June 2017 after the mama bear threatened a human in Kern County while scrounging for food - normally a death sentence. The family lived in the zoo's veterinary hospital while a new habitat was built for them.

The bears officially moved into the new quarters January 13.

"The bears are smiling," said Erin Harrison, a spokeswoman for the zoo. "They are climbing trees, bounding around, swimming in the pool."

People can watch the antics of the bears - Mama Cambria and her three boys, Tejon, Pismo and Kern - in real time on the Black Bear Cam on the zoo's website,

The zoo hadn't anticipated having bears, so a whole new habitat had to be built for the family, Harrison said. 

Given the state of the Bay Area's housing market, many human residents might envy the bears their habitat, which includes five dens, a shower, skylights and radiant floor heat. Overall, the new quarters encompass an acre and a half, with a pool and trees.

The story started in the early hours of May 15, 2017, when the mama bear and her cubs were found burglarizing a home in Pine Mountain Club, an unincorporated community about an hour's drive southwest of Bakersfield.

In an unfortunate variation on the "Goldilocks" theme, an elderly resident discovered the four bears and tried to shoo them away by banging pots and pans.

Mama Cambria, who had not yet been named at that time, charged the woman and took a swipe at her, hurting her left arm. The woman was treated at the hospital and released.

Typically, bears who attack people are euthanized, but mitigating factors surfaced. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife learned that people had been feeding the bears, who were responsible for other break-ins.

When people feed bears, it can cause them to lose their natural foraging skills and become aggressive, according to the department. It is, in fact, illegal to do so.

Because people unwittingly taught the cubs to rummage around in human neighborhoods, breaking into cars and houses in search of food, neither the cubs nor their mother were found to be suitable for release back into the wild. 

With Mama Bear's life in the balance, the Oakland Zoo stepped up to the plate (or at least the feeding dish).

The zoo asked to take all three cubs, as well as their mother, as future residents of its planned California Trail expansion, a 56-acre showcase of the state's natural habitat expected to open this summer.

The bears moved into the zoo in June, and into their new quarters Jan. 13. Their habitat is part of the California Trail, which will open to the public this June.

"When bears learn to take advantage of humans, specifically our kitchens and trash cans, they become comfortable around us and make some folks nervous," Ann Bryant, executive director of the Bear League, said in a statement.

"Too often the answer is to destroy the bears. We are grateful this bear family was saved from that horrific fate and instead (was) invited to live at the Oakland Zoo' wonderful new California Trail where they will help teach people how to responsibly co-exist with wildlife," Bryant said.