Zoo welcomes summer with bear awareness activities

April 29, 2016 - 1:17pm

Keeper talks, enrichment will highlight importance of co-existing with bears

With black bears stirring after their long winter naps, and summer camping season just around the corner, the Oregon Zoo is hosting a special Bear Awareness Day May 14, featuring informative keeper talks, educational displays and animal-enrichment activities.

"We're getting an early start on National Bear Awareness Week, which is the third week in May," said Julie Christie, senior keeper in the zoo's North America area. "We want people to know what they can do to keep safe and help bears, not only here in the Pacific Northwest, but around the world."

"We want people to know what they can do to keep safe and help bears."

—Julie Christie, senior keeper

At 10 a.m., keepers will be placing a campsite (minus the campers) in the middle of the zoo's Black Bear Ridge habitat for Dale, Cubby, Tuff and Takoda — the zoo's four black bears — to explore, and probably destroy.

"Our goal is to keep the bears active and engaged, and also educate people about camping in bear territory as the summer season gets underway," Christie said. "For example, it's important to make sure your food is stored properly and garbage isn't left out."

Black bears are North America's most common bear species — about 25,000 to 30,000 live in Oregon. They are omnivorous and have a diverse diet including fruit, plants, berries and grasses; they are not usually active predators.

At 11 a.m., there will be a keeper talk with enrichment items for Malayan sun bears Vivian and Jody, both among the oldest of their species. Sun bears typically live up to 25 years — a milestone these two bears (30 and 29, respectively) have long since put past them. Native to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, sun bears are threatened by loss of habitat to palm oil plantations. To help break the link between palm oil and deforestation in Malayan sun bear range countries, the has zoo launched its Use Your Reach project, as well as a Small Actions portal that gives everyone the opportunity to make better choices to benefit wildlife.

At 2 p.m., polar bears take the spotlight, with a feeding and keeper talk highlighting the critical role of these iconic marine mammals — and the issues they face — in the Arctic ecosystem. Polar bears, designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, are among the many species supported through the Oregon Zoo Foundation's Wildlife Partners program, which advances the zoo's local and global conservation efforts.

Bear Awareness Day schedule:

  • Black bear enrichment and keeper talk - 10 a.m.
  • Sun bear enrichment and keeper talk - 11 a.m.
  • Polar bear feeding and keeper talk - 2 p.m.