But zoogoers in Apple Valley were not anticipating the brown bears, sometimes called grizzlies, to get any closer than that, until one of the three bears in the exhibit Monday shattered part of the multi-pane viewing glass with a rock. The glass remained in place.
"The noise of the rock into the glass was so loud that it reverberated, and that is when people ran," said Robin Ficker, a lawyer on vacation from Maryland who decided to stay to see what happened next.
"He was using a rock as a tool. ... He hit the window five times," he said.
"The exhibit was unique in the sense that the pond came right up to you, allowing you to be within inches of bears," said Ficker, who captured the now-viral picture of the aftermath.
The incident lasted a mere 30 seconds and occurred right as a zookeeper was in the cavern of the viewing space, but even "she looked startled," according to Ficker. It all came to a smashing end when the bears were summoned to their enclosures.
The zoo painted a somewhat different scenario.
In a statement to CNN, Kelly Lessard, a spokeswoman for the zoo, said "a brown bear moved a rock from the bottom of the exhibit pool and rolled it up and along the pool's glass barrier, eventually causing the inner pane to break."
The statement said "no harm or danger to either animal or zoo guests" had occurred during the incident.
"The brown bear was exhibiting typical curious natural behavior, interacting with a found object just like it might in the wild," said Lessard.
The three orphaned bears, Sadie, Haines and Kenai, came to the zoo from Alaska in 2008.
The zoo website notes that the brown bears are temporary off exhibit.