Popular Grizzly Bear At Scottsbluff Zoo Dies


       The Riverside Discovery Center in Scottsbluff says one of two grizzly bears brought to the zoo 5 years ago as a cub has died, apparently of encephalitis – a brain infection.

      Bandit and his brother Smokey were about 10-months old when their mother was killed illegally in northwest Wyoming. 

      RDC Executive Director Anthony Mason says Bandit “was an incredible animal with a larger-than-life impact on everyone,” and that his death “is an incredibly tough loss for all of the staff at RDC and for the entire community.”

      The zoo staff noticed late last month that Bandit had lost his appetite. The zoo veterinarian was notified and began medical treatments, but the bear’s condition deteriorated over the next 24 hours..

        He was taken to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in Fort Collins for more testing. After returning to Scottsbluff, Bandit received care and treatments, but succumbed to his illness about a week later. 

       Mason says he “can’t possibly overstate the herculean effort put forth by veterinarians, keepers, maintenance staff, and many others who worked around the clock to provide care and treatment for Bandit” and are heartbroken at his death.

      A necropsy by the zoo’s vet and samples tested by the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center at UNL determined the grizzly had encephalitis, but how he contracted the disease is still unknown.

  The initial necropsy also showed he had a genetic heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, but it’s not known if that contributed to Bandit’s illness and death.

     Mason says Smokey is doing just final and showing no indications of any type of illness, but adds that animal care staff are closely monitoring Smokey and providing him with lots of extra enrichment. 

     Grizzly bear cubs are usually euthanized in such situations because few zoos or wildlife centers have adequate and appropriate space for them, but the RDC stepped forward to help.

      Fundraising efforts for a new enclosure were successful, but it was more than 2 years later before Bandit and Smokey were finally able to get into their new 20,000 square foot home in October 2020.

    “It’s not very often you meet an animal that seems like they can see into your soul, but Bandit was that animal for me,” adds Zookeeper Sierra Spears. 

     Spears says “Bandit was always excited for our daily training sessions and that made me even more excited to work with him. He made me rethink the way I communicated with animals through training and we would work through the barriers of learning something new every session.

     As the weather cooled and the snow started to fall in the winter time, Bandit couldn’t get enough of running around the fresh snow with his brother. He always seemed to enjoy anything that made him think, but especially any complex enrichment that involved fresh honey or peanut butter.”

   Spears says Bandit was a handful, but in a good way. “He was hard to stay ahead of, constantly making breakthroughs during training sessions and demolishing new enrichment, he pushed me to be a better keeper for him and try to find new ways to challenge him every single day.”