Teresa, one of the animal keepers at the park, explained the origins of the bears and wolves in the park. She showed us pictures of the bears’ previous homes, where they were kept in horrendous conditions. All the bears, except for one, Jurka, were bred in captivity so would be unable to survive in the wild. Instead, they have come to live at this beautiful 10 hectare park in the Black Forest. The park is divided into several sections, where different groups of wolves and bears live. When we visited in November, the bears were getting ready to hibernate. They build themselves nests using straw and other plant material, in man-made caves in their enclosures. Whilst in captivity, the bears were not allowed to hibernate but once able to, their instincts kick in and they sleep through most of the winter.
This video shows Jurka, the only bear at that park that was born in the wild. She was encouraged to visit an Italian restaurant by an unscrupulous owner leaving food for her. As a result her behaviour changed; this learned behaviour was passed on to her offspring causing serious problems so she was taken in to captivity to prevent further damage. Here she is building up her energy reserves for hibernation by eating grass.
Many of the bears suffer from health problems, such as arthritis, as a result of their previous treatment. When they require treatment by the vet they are sedated by dart and treated in the bear park’s own surgery. The local vet specialises in small animals but has close links with zoo vets to ensure that the bears receive the best possible care.
We were lucky to visit the wolf and bear park on a beautiful autumn day and see these amazing creatures in an environment as close to nature as possible. We have an opportunity, with our Back to Nature project, to make a difference in the world and perhaps save future bears from suffering.