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Mountain lions, bobcats and Maggie, oh my!

Saturday marked the eighth birthday for Maggie the black bear, the most famous resident of Carlsbad's Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park. The burly birthday girl ventured out after a nap Saturday afternoon to eat an edible birthday present made of non-toxic paper, fruit leather and peanut butter. Hidden inside? Almonds and berries, a treat she took quite a bit of time to enjoy.

Maggie graced Carlsbad with her presence at only six months and has blossomed into a talented painter, music-lover and friend to park volunteers, children and anyone willing to visit.

Celebrity or not, Maggie has been through tough times. She was found at just a month old in 2005, barely alive and struggling to survive. She was rescued with her mother and a sibling cub during a raid by federal agents in Georgia, but Maggie was the only bear who ultimately survived the ordeal, according to Living Desert educational coordinator Kathryn Law.

After recovering from malnourishment and severe wounds all over her body, Maggie was placed in Carlsbad, where she quickly became the star of the Living Desert as zoo staff worked to develop her artistic side through painting. Employees roll out paper and set out vegetable dye paint, in which Maggie dips her paw and marks the canvas. Her paintings are sold in the zoo's lobby gift shop.

Volunteer Vicki Mattox thinks Maggie is a wonderful bear, but pointed out she's still a wild bear despite her Picasso persuasions.

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Law agreed. "Most of our birds or mammals were born in captivity or were injured and can't live in the wild or they were orphaned really young," Law said. Mattox has been with the state park for almost a year. She stayed close to Maggie's enclosure most of the day, excited to experience her birthday party for the first time. One of her dreams is to some day just be able to go in and clean the enclosures, she said.

"They (animals) help me just as much as I help them, they give me peace, I just love working with them," Mattox said.
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The staff at the park on Saturday made sure everyone could join in on the fun by offering informational booths to stop at and face painters who specialized in butterflies and feline whiskers.

Children with painted faces growled like bears while climbing the rails outside of Maggie's enclosure, trying hard to get a glimpse of the birthday girl. Law led the crowd into singing happy birthday to Maggie, but the bear bearly noticed as she was muzzle deep into her delicious gift.


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