The History of Bear Country USA
Dr. Dennis “Doc” Casey, and his wife Pauline, opened Bear Country U.S.A. in August 1972 with 11 black bear, one cougar, one wolf, three buffalo and one large bull elk. The park is still owned and operated by Pauline and 3 of her children; Shannon, Mike and John. Wildlife at Bear Country U.S.A. has expanded in the past 28 years featuring over 200 black bear and various other wildlife.
“There were no zoos nearby when we opened,” says Pauline Casey. “We wanted the people of Rapid City to enjoy the animals like we did. What we envisioned as a local attraction has grown to draw people from all over North American and some foreign countries”.
The biggest change at Bear Country has been the number of animals living at the park. Most of the wildlife are born on the premises and are hand-raised by the park staff. Every spring the Casey’s look forward to a new crop of bear cubs.
The cubs are born in early January while their mothers are in hibernation. The cubs stay with their mothers for eight weeks. Then, in early March, Bear Country handlers remove the cubs from their dens, and staff members bottle feed the babies for another six to eight weeks.
Bear Country U.S.A. takes the babies from their mothers for three simple reasons: survival rate, manageability and marketability.
“In the wild only 40% of cubs see the end of their first year,” says Pauline Casey. “At Bear Country our survival rate is substantially higher (98%). By human-imprinting the animals shortly after birth (2 months) we are able to manage them as adults making vaccinating and moving them much easier and safer. Lastly, we have earned a strong reputation among zoos, wildlife parks and even movie studios for even-tempered, manageable animals.”
Along with the bears, park staff members raise young timber wolves, arctic wolves, bobcats and mountain lions throughout the late winter, spring and early summer as they are born at Bear Country.
Even though animal numbers have increased, park acreage at Bear Country U.S.A. has not. However, the steady increase of animals has prompted many park improvements. Animal enclosures are consistently landscaped and renovated, as presenting the animals in natural habitats is very important to the Caseys.
The recently expanded Wildlife Center displays the young and smaller animals and offers visitors a chance to get out of their cars and take a closer look. Black bear cubs and young wolf pups romp through the grassy enclosures. Besides the bear cubs, a couple of our other main displays are the otters who love to play in their waterfalls and pools and our adult grizzly bears whom we moved into their new pen in 2004, they are much more visible to the visitors. The center also displays young bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes. Smaller animals, such as foxes, badger and skunks, also make the Wildlife Center their home. The animals on display do vary a little from year to year due to whether or not that species has had offspring in our park.
Bear Country USA uses rotational grazing programs with hoof stock and developed their own pasture grass mix which combines drought tolerant native species of grasses including brome, crested wheat grasses, and buffalo grass. Water from ponds are used to irrigate grazing areas and shelter belts. Shelter belts are planted with drought tolerant native shrubs and trees which require little water and feed song birds through the winter while providing wind break and shade. Chickens and peafowl free-range to control ticks –eggs from chickens are used as animal enrichment in Babyland.
Bear Country USA has cooperated with numerous organizations by gathering and sharing information related to hibernation and captive breeding of bears.