The 600 people who showed up to “Camp-Out with the Grizzlies,” a fund-raiser for the San Francisco Zoo, ate vegetarian chili at “rustic” tables and sported camping garb as they drank cocktails. They spent thousands to be there, and one lucky couple bid $32,500 to win the naming rights to two orphaned Montana grizzlies sent to the zoo in lieu of a death sentence for ransacking ranches back home.
Behind the scenes, “Grizzly-gate” rustled in the bushes. After promoting a bear-naming contest for months, officials at the San Francisco Zoo had called it off in favor of the live auction, seizing the chance to raise some money for the zoo. More than 750 entries, mostly from children, had poured in with suggestions like “Pocahontas” and “Cocopuff,” and officials sent each entrant four admission tickets and a card stamped with a bear paw print in hopes of mollifying the disenfranchised voters. Nevertheless, stories in the San Francisco Chronicle and a discussion forum on SFGate.com reflected contestants’ outrage, and their furor reached its height after the auction, when the winning couple, Cinnie and Merrill Magowan, said they were going to name the bears after themselves.
“I am sick to my stomach knowing this is happening right under our nose. In our community. It is disgusting and saddening,” wrote one citizen. Others weighed in telling people to get over it, that it was more important to raise money for the zoo. The Chronicle called the scandal “Grizzlygate,” and zoo director Manuel Mollinedo told the paper, “It’s been a very embarrassing situation for me.”
The night after the auction, apparently sniffing discontent on the breeze, the couple announced the resurrection of the naming contest.
“The citizens of San Francisco will be heard,” Merrill Magowan told the Chronicle. “The children of San Francisco will be re-enfranchised.”
The 750 entries—plus the Magowans’ new suggestions—are now back in the running. And believe us when we tell you that the grizzly sisters, labeled “F-21” and “F-22” in Montana and now unofficially called Blondie and Chocolate, await the decision with bated breath.