New exhibit at Houston Zoo brings you nose-to-nose with black bears

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Meet Belle and Willow!

Weighing in at just over and just under 300 pounds, respectively, the black bears are from California, where they were found nosing around trash cans when they were babies.

They're 5 years old now, but their hobbies are a lot like my grandmother's.

"Lots of time in that chilled pool for sure," explained Kathy Watkins, the senior supervisor of the Houston Zoo's Carnivore Department. "Definitely afternoon naps. We notice right at around 11:30, 12 o'clock, they like to take their naps."

Belle and Willow's home at the Houston Zoo just tripled to 6,000 square feet.

The extra space gives the bears the space to laze around comfortably, and a glass wall lets them interact with zoo visitors.

"They're extremely intelligent, so being able to mentally stimulate them through the training is really great for them," Watkins said

Black bears are native to Texas, but were over-hunted for years.

In the 1950s, they were considered extinct in the state, but changing laws and attitudes have led to a resurgence.

"The critical thing when bringing back these animals from extinction is to actually have to make people care," said Renee Bumpus, the zoo's wildlife conservation coordinator.

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