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A Backyard for Bam Bam Turpentine Creek’s grizzly gets dream home

A Backyard for Bam Bam Turpentine Creek’s grizzly gets dream home

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Bam Bam has to curl his body up to sit in the stock tank. Small for an almost full-grown grizzly, he spans eight feet when standing on his hind legs with his arms up.

Where does a 750-pound grizzly bear swim?

In the case of Bam Bam, the resident grizzly bear at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, in a stock tank barely big enough to fit him and his bath toy, a large ball. And then it’s more of sit-and-soak than swim.

“He loves the water,” said Claire McElroy, a TC intern. “He’ll spend 80 percent of his time in it.”


Eric Studer shows off Bam Bam’s new back yard, which has a swimming pool with a waterfall.

Bam Bam is a nearly full-grown grizzly bear who spent the first two years of his life as a domestic pet. When Turpentine Creek adopted him in November of 2009, he was living in a space barely big enough for him to turn around. Now six years old, he has lived in a double enclosure in the refuge’s compound. But on Nov. 3, he will be introduced to his new backyard, which has a swimming pool, climbing tower and slide, and the public is invited.

“I can’t wait to see him on his jungle gym,” McElroy said.

Turpentine Creek is mainly an old-folks home for tigers that were bred for pets and outgrew their owners’ ability to feed and house them. Bam Bam was adopted in Oklahoma along with two tigers, according to Eric Studer, a former board member who handles public relations. The refuge’s only grizzly (there is also a black bear), Bam Bam is the star attraction because unlike tigers, who are nocturnal, he is awake during the day.

“He’s very playful, and acclimated to people,” Studer said.

Bam Bam’s new habitat has been on the drawing board for more than a year, but was sidetracked when Turpentine Creek’s Tanya and Scott Smith were called to take in more than 30 aging tigers from a private shelter whose owner could no longer care for them. Moving the tigers two at a time took months. Housing them required a major fundraising drive to buy materials to build a whole new section of tiger habitats on the refuge, six miles south of Eureka Springs. The refuge’s original compound is now used for temporary housing until animals can be moved into large habitats with natural surfaces.

For Bam Bam’s new home, Turpentine Creek created a dedicated fund, receiving gifts from $5 to gifts from major donors, Studer said. Staff, interns and volunteers pitched in to do much of the construction, setting poles and building the climbing tower and giant slide, made from fire hoses. The pool, which has a waterfall and is almost four feet deep in the center, was built by Aquacrete of Bella Vista.

“They knocked half the price off,” Studer said. “It would have been in the $60,000 range.”

The public is invited to the grand opening of Bam Bam’s new backyard at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3, at the refuge, on Highway 23 south. Bam Bam will be moved into his new indoor den a few days before to get used to it, Studer said, then on the big day, will be let out to explore the yard.

“I hope he will go crazy and run all over,” Studer said, “but you never know.”

Grizzly bears in captivity have a life expectancy of 25 years, Studer said, and Bam Bam has had a pretty good life so far, being fed every day and getting his fill of his favorite food, grapes. But everyone at Turpentine Creek is excited to see his world expand.

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