Mistaken Identity: Brown bear or black bear?

Carnivores, Uncategorized

How can you tell a black bear from a brown bear? Well, it may not be as easy as you think. In fact, both species of bears can range in color from deep black to blonde! Brown bears are typically larger than black bears, but again there is variation in size across subspecies. The best way to tell apart the two species of bear is to look at the anatomy of their shoulders and claws.

Brown bear

Brown bears are diggers, so they have powerful muscles between their shoulders forming a large, prominent hump. They also have 4-6 inch long curved claws that are dulled to help them forage and dig dens for hibernation.

Black bears, on the other hand, are climbers. They do not need the excessive shoulder muscle or long claws. They have shorter and sharper claws for climbing trees in which they use to forage above the forest floor, and will often hibernate up in the trees as well.

Black bear

Black bear

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Don’t Feed the Bears!

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Nearly everyone is familiar with the warning: “don’t feed the bears.” Signs with this message are posted around popular hiking grounds, state parks, and campsites with the hopes to inform people of the dangers of feeding wild bears.

The biggest problem that arises when people feed wild bears is that the bears become accustomed to human food and human contact, which can lead to them being classified as “problem bears” by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The exact specifications of a “problem bear” can vary from state-to-state, but the repercussions are the same nearly everywhere.

“Problem bears” are typically black or brown bears that have come in contact with people roughly three times, and if they are determined a threat to public safety they may be legally euthanized or relocated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. When this does occur, the department is not always aware of cubs that the bear may have had, which often leaves them orphaned to fend for themselves. But if these cubs are found and discovered unfit to be re-released into the wild, zoos will often take them in and give them a second chance.

Wildlife Safari is dedicated to helping bears that needed a second chance, and is currently home to seven bears: two grizzly bears- Mak and Oso; two Alaskan coastal bears- Claire and Russell; and three black bears- Takoda, Chochmo, and Donna.

(Left to right: Black bear Takoda, Alaskan Coastal brown bear Claire and Grizzly bear Mak)

All seven of our bears live very comfortable, enriched lives at Wildlife Safari. They receive daily enrichment in the form of food to forage for throughout the day, ice treats on hot days, toys in huts, climbing structures, and pools/ponds to swim in- just to name a few.

(Bear climbing structure; black bear Chochmo enjoying a popsicle)

Unlike the cheetah breeding program that Wildlife Safari is best known for, we do not have a breeding program in place for our bears. Since black and brown bears are not endangered or vulnerable to extinction in the wild, breeding bears in captivity would be simply adding to the problem. So rather than bringing more bears into the world, we prefer to provide a home for bears in need. Every visit you make to Wildlife Safari helps support our bears by helping us give them the second chance that they all deserve!

Always remember to keep all food properly stored whether you are camping, or at home, and please do not feed the bears!

 

Bear Island

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Through the week of spring break Wildlife Safari has been offering $5 feed-me cups so guests can feed the bears! The bears love their new enrichment, it’s a fun interaction for them and they are always keen for snacks. It is also a wonderful way for visitors to connect with the animals, which is what we’re all about here at Safari!

Claire, our Alaskan Coastal brown bear foraging for snacks

Now before you worry about our bears’ waist-lines, you should know these snacks are a carefully considered part of their diet. We keep track of how many calories they are consuming every day so we can keep them nice and healthy!

To our Grizzly boys, snack time is the best time – Photo courtesy of Emilie Gupta

On days when they are not getting snack cups, keepers will go out at intervals through the day and throw snacks into their enclosure. This grazing through the day helps us to mimic the natural foraging behavior of wild bears, so we spread their snacks over their enclosure so they can sniff them out!

Russell, another Alaskan Coastal brown bear, takes a quick snooze

This experience is now available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 3pm. So if you haven’t met our bears, now is an excellent time!

Bear-y Interesting….

Carnivores, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

During the warmer parts of the year you will see our two Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear girls, Russell and Claire, and our two Grizzly Bear boys, Mak and Oso, in our Brown Bear drive through area.

Surprisingly, the biggest distinction between brown and black bears isn’t the color of their fur, as they can both range from light brown to black in color, but rather their affinity for either climbing or digging. Brown bears are great diggers and can dig a hole the size of a small car in about 2 days. They have a huge muscle on their back and long front claws which help them dig and forage underground. Black bears are great climbers and are often found in trees. They have larger hips and shorter, curved claws to help them climb.

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Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Bears live to be around 30 years old in the wild and in captivity. For their weight, it is amazing that they can run up to 30 mph. They can outrun a horse, out swim an Olympian, kill a cow with one blow, and drag a full grown elk uphill. This is the reason why we have “protected contact” with our bears, meaning there is always a barrier between us and them. Even if our bears just wanted to give us a hug, it would not turn out well for us.

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Black Bear – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

They have an amazing sense of smell. Bears can detect odors 6 inches underground through solid dirt, normal odors 3 miles away, and strong rancid odors 15-20 miles away.

Bears are omnivorous scavengers so they’ll pretty much eat anything they can find. Our bears all have their favorite foods, just like we do; Mak and Oso love their produce while Russell and Claire love their meat. A human eats about 2,000 calories a day while a bear can eat over 15,000 calories in a day. Their main sources of protein in the wild are fish and insects. However, fishing is a learned behavior that has to be taught. Mak and Oso are 11 years old and have been with us most of their live, and it wasn’t until last summer that Mak caught his first fish from their pond – he was as surprised as we were! Bears are social learners and learn by watching other bears.

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Photo Courtesy of Mandy Ho

We train our bears by capturing their natural behaviors. This not only helps stimulate the bears mentally but also helps us perform stress-free health checks on them. For instance, our bears are trained to show us their teeth and paws so we can check their oral health and paw pads for any injuries. We exercise positive reinforcement training, meaning we reward our animals when they do well, and ignore it if they do not. We never say ‘no’ or give out punishment when they do something wrong. We also always ask our animals to come do something, we never force them. Usually, a tasty snack is motivation enough for our animals to come train with us.

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Donna, one of Wildlife Safari’s resident Black Bears – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Bears are not very vocal animals. In the wild, you’ll never see a bear stand up on its hind legs and roar like in the movies. They actually only take that stance when they are trying to pinpoint a smell. Bears are very wobbly on their hind legs and it exposes their stomach to potential attacks. If they really wanted to scare you, they’d plant themselves firmly on all fours. Fortunately, bears in the wild like to stay away from humans and will run off if they see/smell/hear you coming. This means you will likely never come across a bear unless it was so engrossed in something that it didn’t mind you approaching.

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Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

There are 8 types of bears: American black bear, Asian black bear, brown bear, giant panda, sloth bear, sun bear, polar bear, and spectacled bear (also called Andean bear). There are about 16 recognized subspecies of brown bears and their size differs by region with the Yukon grizzly around 400 pounds and Kodiak brown bear up to 1500 pounds.

Hibernation

Here at Wildlife Safari we are fortunate to be able to hibernate all our bears. Hibernation is not an instinctual behavior but rather a learned one, like fishing. Our girls came to us knowing the basics of hibernation, so when our boys came to us they learned from the girls over a 3 year period. They each get bales of hay to bed down for the duration of their sleep, from November to late February. During this period, our girls have to be separated because Russell is a bed hog. However, our boys stay together and will actually cuddle for the duration of their sleep.

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Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear, Russell – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Daylight, temperature, and food availability are all cues for hibernation. When there’s less sunlight, it gets colder and food gets scarce, the bears prepare for hibernation. Here at Wildlife Safari, we can control their hibernation to some degree. Beginning in early October, we start giving them foods they don’t particularly like: broccoli, brussell sprouts, etc. This mimics the decrease in food availability in the wild and is their final cue to settle down to hibernate. Essentially, they decide they would rather go to sleep than eat another brussell sprout! During hibernation, they have a slowed metabolism, heart rate, and respiration. They lose 15% of their body weight and this is also the time when any lingering injuries will heal.

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Grizzly Bears, Mak and Oso – Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

Ninety-five percent of female bears give birth during hibernation, usually in early January. Bears will mate during breeding season but fertilized eggs aren’t implanted in the uterus until the fall when she is ready to hibernate. This is an important process; if she doesn’t gain enough weight to carry her through winter, the embryo will not implant and is reabsorbed by the body. Cubs are born blind, hairless, toothless, and weigh less than 1 lb. They stay with mom until they’re 2 years old, are sexually mature at about 5 years, but continue growing until about 10 years.

Though we use the term “hibernation” when referring to this process for bears, they are not true hibernators. This process is actually referred to as torpor or carnivore lethargy. Like true hibernators, they do not eat, urinate, or defecate during their hibernation. But unlike true hibernators, their metabolism and body temperatures do not drop as low. If you were to wake a true hibernator they would not survive because their body wouldn’t be able to bring their metabolism and temperature up quickly enough. Bears, however, will re-adjust their position to stay comfy, and may even raise their heads to check if they hear a noise, then fall back to sleep just fine.

Conservation

Despite their conservation status of “least concern”, their numbers in the wild are doing relatively well so most facilities do not breed brown or black bears. Their main threat is habitat loss and climate change. Their natural habitats are being reduced by human expansion into their territories and climate change threatens their survival by interrupting their hibernation – if it’s too warm they won’t want to settle down to sleep and will therefore lose the chance to shed excess weight and heal their wounds fully. When it comes to human conflict, wild bears typically have a 3 strike policy, meaning if a bear comes into contact with humans more than 3 times, they must be relocated into a facility or put down.

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Photo courtesy of Mandy Ho

The bears that find a new home, like Mak, Oso, Russell and Claire, get to live happy lives with people looking after them. If you’d like to come and meet our bears, we actually have encounters through the winter. You can come see our sleepy ones in a ‘hibernating bear’ encounter now being offered daily!

Russell and Claire

Carnivores, Uncategorized

Russell and Claire are Alaskan Coastal Brown bears. They make up half of Wildlife Safari’s population of brown bears, and at 27 and 28 years old they are the old ladies of the group. Bears are one of few species that has a similar lifespan in captivity and in the wild – into their 30s. So the girl’s are getting close to the upper end on that life expectancy, but are still healthy, strong, and active.

Russel and Claire

Russell and Claire – Photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Like most of the brown bears in captivity in the US, they were orphaned at a young age. They had, however, been through at least one winter with their mothers – long enough for them to easily slip into the hibernation routine. This is important, since it is something they learn, it isn’t built in to their instincts – which means most orphaned bears in captivity do not hibernate. This means they go without that healthy time to heal wounds and lose up to 14 percent of their body weight – leaving them vulnerable to obesity and related diseases. This is why Russell and Claire are so healthy – they hibernate for four months a year!

Russel relaxing after a swim

Russel relaxing after a swim – Photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

The girls have very distinct personalities: Claire loves to sleep and is very into finding all kinds of weird and wonderful positions to sleep in for maximum comfort. Russell, on the other hand, loves to be out and exploring. She is also bold and confident – and has no issues nudging Claire into joining her for adventures.

These two LOVE their meat, as well as melons and pineapple – though they get lots of variety with every meal. As omnivores they would eat a variety of fruits and vegetables as they foraged, as well as any meat or easy prey they would come across.

Russel - photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

Russel – photo courtesy of Sara Wheaton

Claire and Russel always brighten their keepers’ days, and we hope they brighten yours too!

Rise and Shine!

Behind the Scenes, Carnivores, Uncategorized

Spring is here and the bears at Wildlife Safari have started venturing out and stretching their legs after a long four months of hibernation. Although still a little sleepy, the bears are looking happy and healthy, having lost a substantial amount of weight during their time of rest.

One of the black bears surrounded by snacks and enrichment

One of the black bears, Chochmo surrounded by snacks and enrichment – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

When the bears first get up, they ease into eating again, starting on small amounts of simple foods and slowly increasing as summer approaches.

The black bears typically hibernate for longer than the brown bears, but are also starting to emerge for the spring.

Grizzly brothers, Mak and Oso, enjoying the spring sunshine - photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Grizzly brothers, Mak and Oso, enjoying the spring sunshine – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Sunshine adventures

Little Boy on sunshine adventures – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

In the wild, spring is the time when cubs are around, emerging from their dens with their mothers for the first time. Bears will give birth while hibernating, with cubs nursing on their snoozing mother through the winter. By the time spring rolls around, cubs are big enough to explore and play while their mothers find food.

This may seem like a good way to raise small young, and it is not just good timing that allows them to give birth during hibernation. Bears can actually delay implantation of fertilized eggs to make sure their pregnancy goes through these resting months. “Delayed implantation is a really cool feature of the bear reproductive cycle,” says Melissa Fox, primary bear trainer at Wildlife Safari. “Bears will typically mate in late spring, but the fertilized egg won’t attach to the uterine wall until fall, and only if the female has gained enough weight to sustain her – typically around 150lbs.” If the female does not gain that weight, the pregnancy will be terminated. This pregnancy will only last 2 months, giving the little cubs time to grow before the end of the hibernation period. Cubs are born tiny and hairless, though they are much bigger and stronger when they leave the den. “They are born early so they can switch to mammary nourishment (milk) sooner,” explains Fox. “It’s more energy efficient.”

Takoda the black bear saying hello to his keepers

Little Girl, the black bear saying hello to her keepers – photo courtesy of Melissa Fox

As their primary, Fox spends a lot of time with both the brown and black bears. “I love how intelligent and playful they are,” she says. “It makes them so much fun to work with.”

Once they are awake and ready to eat, bears are mostly foragers – eating whatever is around. While they do eat meat, they won’t generally hunt, preferring to eat prey that another animal has caught, although they will also fish.

The black bears love their ponds

The black bears love their ponds – photo courtesy of Taylor Sherrow

Bears 2

Photo courtesy of Melissa Fox

Big Bear encounters have started, so if you haven’t met our brown bears, now is the perfect time to come and see them!