Busy in Bear Canyon

Sun bear cub

Sun bear cub

Whew! It’s been a whirlwind of activity for the bear staff at the San Diego Zoo! Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to take stock and admire our handiwork.

I suppose the list of activities must start with the breeding of our polar bears. JoAnne has already written several detailed blogs about that activity, and perhaps we will be hearing the pitter-patter of little bear feet up at The Plunge. Kudos to those of you taking JoAnne up on her challenge to write about your carbon footprint reductions; there is no better way to help the polar bear! (Read JoAnne’s blog, The Polar Bear World.)

Next on our list of new activities was the release of our sun bear cubs to the exhibit. Pagi (pronounced “PAA-gee”) and Palu (“paa-LOO”) took charge of their new space, exploring every inch and climbing high, as sun bears are wont to do. (Read Suzanne’s blog, Sun Bears: Adieu to the Den.) In the wild, these bears sleep and forage high in trees, enjoying fruit and shade and quiet places to rest. Their long claws and small bodies make climbing a snap, and even the littlest sun bears find it second nature.

Next up was the celebration of Bear Bonanza, a four-day event culminating on Sunday, March 22. Researchers and keepers alike were kept busy giving talks on bears, providing extra enrichment, giving special tours, and manning information booths throughout the affair. The crowds were good for the event, though we were a bit disappointed to have rain on Sunday. Nonetheless, our sun bear cubs put on a show, and the grizzly bears had a blast with their mock campsite exhibition. That one was a real crowd pleaser, as Scout and Montana mangled food storage bags left carelessly about by “campers” who were not very bear aware. Not to be left out, the polar bears had snow over the weekend, and anyone who has seen them play in the snow knows how entertaining that can be.

After the weekend, we introduced a new sloth bear to the canyon. Keesha explored her new exhibit space for the first time on Tuesday, and she did very well. She was cautious and moved slowly about her space, taking everything in. By day two she was comfortable enough to clear her food immediately upon release to the exhibit in the morning. I was happy to include Keesha in the bear translocation study that our other sloth bears had participated in. Come see Keesha, whose extra-fluffy coat and short legs set her apart from her brothers Ken and Bhutan. (See Suzanne’s blog, Ken: Sloth Bear Extraordinaire.)

What’s on the horizon for bear staff? Panda estrus, we hope. Thus far, we haven’t seen much to indicate Bai Yun is ready to go, but long-time readers of our blogs will recall that in 2007 Bai Yun didn’t mate until nearly mid-April, and she showed little signs of her readiness until the day of the matings. We are not surprised, then, to have no indications from her at this time. And yet we are on our toes and reading her signs daily. (Read our giant panda blogs.)

And the cycle continues: we are back to the pitter-patter of bear feet. Will it be polars or pandas? Both? Neither? It’s never a dull moment for the bears or the staff entrusted with their care and research. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for San Diego Zoo Conservation Research.

Watch pandas and polar bears daily!

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