- Associated Press - Saturday, August 5, 2017

SITKA, Alaska (AP) - Fortress of the Bear celebrated two milestones in July - the 10th birthday of Killisnoo, its very first bear cub, and the sanctuary’s 10th year in operation.

At his birthday party, Killisnoo was treated to two special “cakes.” One, made of bread, eggs, honey and salmon berries was in the shape of the figure 10.

“It took two hours to bake it,” said Evy Kinnear, who along with her husband, Les, runs Fortress of the Bear.

The other, made of cardboard and non-toxic papier-mache, was filled with 4 pounds of dog bones and honey and topped with berries. It looked like a traditional birthday cake, decorated with tissue paper “icing” and topped with fake candles made out of toilet paper tubes.

“It’s like a present disguised by a cake,” said Claire Turner, who is the bear manager at the Fortress.

Killisnoo also had another gift - a large white stuffed teddy bear donated by Leon Barclay, a 9-year-old fan, Turner said.

“We found out kind of by accident on Valentine’s Day that they really like stuffed animals,” Turner said.

The Fortress occupies two large masonry enclosures that were built by Alaska Pulp Corp. for waste water treatment back in pulp mill days.

Prior to the party, the bears were moved from the enclosure where the party would be held, and the cakes were brought in to set the stage.

Just after 3 p.m. the gate was opened and Killisnoo strolled in nonchalantly. He sniffed the Big 10 cake and began to chow down.

“That’s our little baby boy right there,” Les Kinnear said. “He’s probably thinking, ‘what’s the catch?’”

When the Kinnears took Killisnoo in on July 27, 2007, he was just 7 months old and weighed 52 pounds. He had been brought from Angoon, where his mother had been shot after she followed a chef into the kitchen of a fishing lodge, Kinnear said. The cub’s sister, Chaik, took longer to catch, but she arrived at the Fortress just a few months later.

Killisnoo was the runt of the litter, Kinnear said.

“Typically for runts to survive they have to be tough, creative, more aggressive than his siblings to be able to survive,” he said.

When the Fortress got him he was dirty and hungry and tried to escape, the Fortress says on its website.

“It took about three days to get him to eat out of our hand and after two weeks we released him to his permanent habitat,” the website says. “Killisnoo’s curiosity and playful nature makes him a favorite of our guests and staff.”

Killisnoo now weighs 850 pounds.

He’s always had a “devil-may-care attitude,” Les said. “It’s his anniversary,” he said. “We figure that’s a milestone, to be here successfully for 10 years.”

The Kinnears began preparing to open the bear rescue center for orphaned cubs in 2002. They had to get proper permits from the city and the state, which took several years. But when then Fish and Game Biologist Phil Mooney found Killisnoo 10 years ago, Fortress of the Bear was ready to take him in.

“We don’t care why they’re orphaned - we just care that we’re able to provide a second chance at life for some of them,” he said.

Fortress of the Bear now permanently houses eight bears - five brown bears and three black bears - that would have been euthanized if it weren’t for the center.

The sanctuary is at full capacity for permanent residents, but it has a permit to temporarily house other bears. The sanctuary also has plans to expand and build more infrastructure, Evy Kinnear said.

The property is part of the city’s Gary Paxton Industrial Park, and earlier this year the Assembly approved an expanded lease for the center, adding some hillside property to the habitat area. The Fortress pays $50 a month for the lease.

During the party, the viewing platform at the Fortress was decorated with a banner that said: “Happy Anniversary Killisnoo.” Volunteers brought additional presents - more honey and peanut butter. Turner said it was fun preparing for the party. The cake was so heavy it took the efforts of two people to position it in the enclosure, she said.

“We like doing stuff like this for the community and celebrate the bears,” Turner said. “They’re really spoiled here.”

After Killisnoo had about 15 minutes to enjoy his treats by himself, Fortress staffers opened the gates to let the other four brown bears into the enclosure. They ran around and also sampled the birthday bear’s cakes.

Standing in the viewing area, Evy Kinnear took in the whole scene. In the 15 years since she and Kinnear began planning for their bear retreat, the center has grown, generating $1 million per year in economic activity and attracting about 30,000 visitors annually.

“It’s been such a rocky road getting this place,” Evy said. “It’s heartwarming to see this and how healthy the bears are and knowing people enjoy what we’re doing, which is why we started this in the first place.”


Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, https://www.sitkasentinel.com/

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