This week is February half term so there’s a lot of excitement and hustle and bustle about the park with everyone coming to see our animals. But at the start of the week, we also celebrated Arroon’s (our male Asiatic black bear) 4th birthday! Mika (our female) also turned 4 on the 1st of this month. Like all bear species, the lives of Asiatic Black Bears, (also known as moon bears for the crescent shape markings on their chest) are dictated by the seasons, with the breeding season starting in June and running through to August. That tends to mean that most of their birthdays are around January/ February time.
So How do Bears Celebrate Birthday’s?
Like we do for most of our animals, we wanted to celebrate with Arroon by giving him some of his favourite things- this does involve food! The sweeter the treat the better in Arroon’s eyes, so of course there was honey. One of the carnivore keepers created a makeshift honeycomb feeder out of some donated toilet roll tubes and cardboard which we hung up in the enclosure. This was a great way to get the bears to use their amazing long tongues to scoop out some of the honey we put in there like they would do in the wild. Bears are also led by their noses, probably more so than any other animal, and a favourite smelly treat that both Mika and Arroon enjoy rubbing themselves on is… fish blood. Yes, it sounds gross to us, but the bears absolutely love it. We managed to gather together some cardboard boxes, and poured a little fish blood over them after we had filled them with some more smelly treats in the form of straw from the Binturong enclosure.
It may sound strange that we give the animals compost or smelly straw from another animals enclosure but actually this is really effective enrichment which we can provide our animals with, especially carnivores. Carnivores are constantly using all their senses in order to find their prey species, one of the most important senses for this tracking is their sense of smell. Due to the seasonal nature of a moon bears life, their sense of smell is critical for them finding food in quite tough conditions and habitats, and therefore by providing different smells we can encourage their natural behaviours of foraging and searching and even scent marking. Lastly, the cherry on top as it were, we gave them some blankets to play with. These were for Arroon specifically as he seems to have a fondness for playing with blankets and empty hessian sacks, especially when Mika refuses to wrestle with him.
Unfortunately, Mika wasn’t overly keen on joining in the fun, so Arroon was very spoilt indeed and got to enjoy all of his treats to himself. He was a little apprehensive at first with the audience he had but eventually he plucked up the courage to investigate all of his presents! At this time of year the bears are very lazy in general, this is due again, to the seasons.
But Don’t Bears Hibernate During the Winter?
Moon bears are found across Asia; from the Himalayas all the way across to north-eastern China and Russia, so as you can imagine they can cope with some pretty harsh winter conditions. Unlike Brown bears, hibernation is not a necessity- only pregnant female moon bears hibernate or those that live in the really cold northern regions, although most will just move to warmer areas rather than hibernate. But they do definitely like to nap during the colder wintery days, and that’s what Mika spent her time doing whilst Arroon was taking full advantage of being the birthday boy!
Due to their huge range, and the massive variety of habitats that they live in the wild, moon bears are constantly looking for food. To try and mimic these sorts of activity levels as much as we can in captivity, we feed our two moon bears 6 times a day. Food is also presented in a different way at each feed; this can range from a simple scatter feed, to hiding food in toys that the bears have to shake, roll or hit to release it. It is challenging trying to come up with interesting or novel ways in which to feed our bears but that will always be part of the fun of working with these awesome animals.
Did You Know…
DYK that Arroon and Mika are the only pair of moon bears currently living in the UK? Come and visit these incredible characters soon!
The next big bear date that we are preparing for on the carnivore section will be 5th May 2019 which is the world’s first International Happy Bears Day!