Enriching the lives of bears in zoos



Bears have a long history in captivity and, in recent times, various enrichment techniques have been developed to stimulate the complex behavioural repertoire of these species. Enrichment strategies, where possible, should allow for an expression of natural behaviours observed in the wild. Enclosure design is critically important and enrichment should not be used to compensate for poorly designed architecture. Good enclosure design should work in harmony with well-planned environmental enrichment strategies that maximize the potential of the bear within the enclosure. Provision of nest-building material, a range of feeding techniques and species-specific considerations will enable keepers to provide for different behavioural strategies. Enclosure and den design may be species-specific depending on the natural range of the bears to be managed. Gender differences, based on the physical capabilities of the sexes, should also be considered. Feeding strategies can be adapted for different species (e.g. scatter feeds vs food piles) and frequency of feeds may be relevant. Mixed-species exhibits may be one way to provide a more stimulating environment for the bears and their enclosure mates. A combination of strategies for offering food, encouraging exercise and the provision of appropriate enclosure area, design and landscaping, all with a species-specific and gender-considered focus, can be used to provide bears in captivity with more stimulating surroundings to encourage a wider range of natural behaviours.