DULUTH (AP) -- The big bear yawned and glanced up from his breakfast, which consisted of a mangled sucker pinned between his paws.
He had visitors. Nonchalantly, he tugged at one more bite, then leisurely strolled over to check out the newcomers.
That's the way it is most days for one of Lake Superior Zoo's most notorious and talked-about residents. When he arrived two years ago, Trouble wasn't just his name, it was his reputation.
The Alaskan brown bear had been caught repeatedly breaking into the zoo in Anchorage, Alaska, looking for free and easy lunches. He had killed a snow-white goose, a favorite among the zoo's young visitors, not because he was hungry, but because the bird was making a racket. He'd been known to wander into neighborhoods and tear into garbage.
Trouble was considered so bothersome, so loathsome, such a nuisance, that before he was loaded onto a plane for his trip to Minnesota, a bishop offered a blessing.
The prayer apparently worked. In his two years in Duluth, Trouble has been anything but trouble. He has been -- dare we say it -- a real pussycat. Most days, he's laid-back, well-behaved and almost boring.
But still, he's a crowd favorite. And he still has a fascinating past.
"He came here as a wild teen-ager. He was still feeling his oats when he got here," Duluth zoo director Mike Janis said. "But with the exception of his first few weeks here, Trouble hasn't lived up to his name at all. That's a good thing for us. A very good thing. Especially because we didn't know for sure what would happen."
Or whether Trouble would even make it to Duluth at all.
Following his many break-ins in Alaska, zoo officials there finally captured the bear and give him his nickname. They made plans to destroy him -- unless some zoo out there actually wanted him.
In Duluth, Lake Superior Zoo officials were looking for an animal to replace Fozzie, a kodiak bear who had died of a seizure six months earlier.
"We were hoping to get some cubs out of Yellowstone to replace Fozzie," Janis said. "But when this came up, when we heard about Trouble, we jumped at him. We decided if we could help save an animal, we should. The cubs would have probably been a whole lot simpler."
Bear cubs could have been caught and brought to Duluth in the back of a van. Trouble, weighing in at nearly 500 pounds, had to be put inside a crate and hauled on an airplane.
Northwest Airlines offered to fly the bear free of charge. Following the bishop's blessing, Trouble was fed Valium-laced Fig Newtons. Sound asleep, he was loaded on board the jet -- right next to 40,000 pounds of fresh salmon.
Which wouldn't have been a problem if Trouble hadn't awakened. But he did. He stirred, rustled to life, took one sniff of the fresh fish and went nuts. He growled and banged around inside his crate.
Passengers in the plane's cabin above grew alarmed. The pilot made an announcement, informing them of their very special fellow passenger. No need to worry.
Safely on the ground at the airport in Minneapolis, zookeepers with rifles stood guard on the runway -- just in case -- as the bear was hoisted off the plane and onto a waiting trailer.
The crate on the ground, Trouble was tranquilized again, this time with a dart fired from a blowgun through the holes in his crate.
"This time we used real drugs, no Fig Newtons," Janis said.
Still wary about just how knocked out Trouble was, zookeepers opened his crate slowly. He didn't stir.
It took eight zoo employees to drag the animal into the bear den. Zookeepers examined him there, gave him his necessary shots and neutered him.
"For being in the wild, he was in very good shape," Janis said. "The only physical damage was around his mouth. My theory was he got kicked by a moose. Others think he got swatted by another bear. No one will ever know for sure, of course."
But the jaw had definitely been broken, at some point, and it definitely was causing Trouble problems eating normally. Perhaps, zoo officials speculated, that's why he kept breaking into the zoo in Alaska. An easy lunch was maybe the only lunch he could get.
Dental work included removing loose and broken teeth.
"Trouble has no problem eating now," Janis said. "None at all."
Every day, the bear consumes five pounds of horse meat and five pounds of fish, including mackerel, suckers, smelt and fresh Lake Superior salmon. He also eats apples, oranges, carrots, potatoes, breads and other foods.
Trouble was welcomed to Duluth with a big party. The mayor issued a proclamation. Children gobbled up Fig Newtons -- Valium-free, of course.
For several days, the bear stayed inside the tunnel-like dens under the rocks that frame his exhibit. Zookeepers hoped to ease him into his new surroundings. They also hoped to introduce him slowly to Phoebe, a female kodiak bear and undisputed queen of the zoo's dens.
At first, Trouble only went outside when Phoebe was kept inside. But finally, the time came. The two bears had to interact. They had to meet each other snout to snout.
It was ugly.
"She beat the heck out of him, basically," Janis said. "There was no blood, nothing major like that. But it didn't go well. We decided real quick that was enough."
Zoo officials waited a full year before trying to put the bears together again. They stood ready with hoses, fire extinguishers and pepper spray. Then they opened the gates. With a rock-shaking growl, Phoebe charged. She slammed into Trouble like a sumo wrestler. They tumbled. Separated.
But then it was over.
"The second time was different," Janis said. "Trouble had put on a little weight and he knew not to turn his back on her."
Trouble and Phoebe went outside together every day for a week. The growls and snorts quickly gave way to acceptance, tolerance and respect. By the end of the week, they were even sleeping next to each other with only the bars of their dens between them.
The zoo's visitors love him. And Trouble loves them.
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