If all goes as planned it will be a diet of nuts and berries - not pizza - for a bear cub that walked into a downtown Colorado Springs pizza place last year.
"Little Louie," as Colorado Parks and Wildlife named the bear, was released back into the wild in southern Colorado Tuesday, spokesman Kyle Davidson said.
Two other orphaned black bear cubs went with him, Davidson said.
"We'll know it's a win if we never see these bears again," Davidson said. "We want them to stay up in the wild and be bears."
The release was likely in time to celebrate Louie's first birthday, Davidson said.
He estimated the cub was between eight and 10 months old when it wandered into Louie's Pizza on Tejon Street, sampled icing used for Louie's cini-bread and fell asleep.
The bear was suspected to be malnourished, weighing 30 to 40 pounds, and nursing a gash on one of its left legs, according to Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation owner Cec Sanders.
By Tuesday, Louie was strong and had gained about 100 pounds, she said. Sanders said she and her husband, Thomas, have helped care for roughly 150 bears over the course of 30 years.
"The best feeling is the day they can go back to where they belong," Sander said.
The three cubs were taken to an area two hours south of Colorado Springs and placed in a den wildlife officers built over the weekend, Davidson said.
The bears will be on their own when it comes to navigating the terrain and foraging for food, traits traditionally learned through interacting with their mother. But Davidson said they have no doubt natural instincts will kick in.
Within weeks, those instincts will lead the bears to split up in search of new territory.
"Bears are very smart," Davidson said. "They'll go wherever their natural food sources and noses take them."
That may have been what led Louie to Louie's, Davidson said. Bears are attracted to any food source that can provide the calories they need to survive the winter, he said.
That's why so important for residents, especially those living west of I-25, to avoid another encounter like Louie's, Davidson said. That means not leaving scraps, pet food or other sources of calories outside where it could attract bears.
Bears that rely on humans for food can be a danger, Davidson said.
Colorado Springs woman Jo Ann Medina, who last year was arrested on suspicion of luring and feeding six bears on her property in the Rockrimmon neighborhood.
"Medina's bears," as they became known, had grown to be more than 500 pounds - at least 100 pounds larger than a typical bear found in the wild, Davidson said - and visited her backyard daily, expecting to be fed. As a result, four of the bears were euthanized, Davidson said.
"We didn't want to kill these bears, but what were we going to do? Our hands were tied," Davidson said. "We don't want to be the bad guy."
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