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click to enlarge Emmitt, a new zoo resident, does an excellent Doug Bruce - imitation. - RICH TOSCHES
  • Rich Tosches
  • Emmitt, a new zoo resident, does an excellent Doug Bruce imitation.

He's big, even tubby, you might say. He shuffles around with matted hair and giant flat feet and a large snout and no real neck. If you tried to touch him, he'd likely bite you, and you'd be labeled a wacko for wanting to get that close. When he slides into a tub of water to soak, great clouds of mud fill the tub. He has never, ever, to anyone's knowledge, had sex.

Here most of you are thinking, "We know, we know! So just how on earth did Doug Bruce ever get to be a state legislator?"

The answer: He was appointed by a group of our county Republicans called the "vacancy committee" which is not, as most believe, a reference to that area between their ears, but is actually a reference to the vast, dark emptiness in their souls.

But today we're not talking about our ambassador to Denver, and I hereby point out for legal reasons that Rep. Bruce in no way matches the above description, in the sense that he does indeed have a neck. Although he also has more chins than a list of 2008 Beijing Olympic volunteers. But that's not important, and I vow never to mention him again.

What is important is Emmitt, a grizzly bear that lives in our village along with a second grizzly bear. According to wildlife experts, the two should help correct the overpopulation of poodles in the upscale Broadmoor and Peregrine areas. No, fortunately for Muffy and Precious, Emmitt and his grizzly pal are living at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which sits at an elevation of some 7,000 feet and bills itself as the nation's only mountain zoo (motto: "750 Animals and 30 Endangered Species 31 If You Count That Old Guy from Florida Slumped on the Bench Gasping for Air and Pawing at His Chest").

Emmitt and Digger are male grizzlies, both about 2 years old and each weighing about 500 pounds. They, along with four mountain lions and a moose named Tahoma (a native American word meaning "a sport utility vehicle made by Chevrolet") are the cornerstones of the zoo's marvelous new three-acre complex of boulders and trees and things that would hurt you, a complex called Rocky Mountain Wild. It opened about a week ago and is a fascinating recreation of a natural Colorado habitat. (Alas, the last known wild grizzly in our state was killed in 1979 by then-U.S. congressman Dick Cheney, who shot the bear in the rump in the mistaken belief that it was a lawyer.)

Emmitt came from the wilds around Eureka, Mont., where he had broken into a home. (A boy who lives in the house is named Emmitt.) The bear ravaged the kitchen in a crazed search for anything it could stuff into its mouth not unlike any episode of that Barefoot Contessa cooking show on the Food Network. Digger was also a problem cub in Montana. Both would have been euthanized if our village zoo hadn't stepped in. Megan Ryder, the zoo's animal behaviors manager, couldn't be happier.

"The biggest surprise to me is how incredibly smart they are," she says of the grizzlies. "It's fascinating, watching them learn and seeing how they watch everything that goes on."

But they are grizzlies. And they are dangerous. So keepers have worked on a behavior with the bears that would be used in an emergency, such as someone falling into the enclosure. Today, at the sound of a cowbell, both bears move across their outdoor area and into their den, behind a sturdy door, in about three to five minutes. Their reward: a pile of bear chow and some fish.

And the training is about to take a twist.

"We're about to add an air horn to the behavior, so at the sound of the cowbell and the air horn together, the grizzlies will actually run into the den," says Ryder.

Last week, a similar plan was implemented in the Colorado State Capitol building. Details are a secret, but apparently cowbells and an air horn will be used in the hallways to warn women of the approach of Rep. Bruce.

rangerrich@csindy.com

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