The NZG's Robynn Ingle-Möller explains to the Zookies what the bear enrichment programme is all about.
Robynn tells the Zookies how to prepare the pine cones they have collected.
The cones are filled with an assortment of foods for the omnivorous Kodiak bears to enjoy.
Zookies display the tasty meals they have prepared.
One of the bears inspects an ice lolly filled with fruit and vegetables.
Inspecting the enclosure to find more tasty snacks.
After snacking on a pine cone or two, both bears stood on their hind legs sniffing before investigating the rest of their enclosure.
A fun-filled programme was prepared for the ZooClub members (Zookies) for the September/October school holidays.
Each day had a themed activity - ranging from animal enrichment and microscope work to learning to identify animal spoor. The activity programme that kept the Zookies happily engaged for a few days, was the animal enrichment programme co-ordinated by the NZG's Robynn Ingle-Möller. Out of the various enrichment programmes, the bear enrichment was a highlight for many.
The National Zoo has two female Kodiak bears, aged 25 and 26 years respectively. The Kodiak bear, a subspecies of the Brown bear, is the largest bear species in stature in the world. Kodiaks are from the southern end of Alaska where they live in dense forests and vegetated habitats.
They have a very keen sense of smell and hearing and can smell up to three kilometres away. It is common to see the bears standing on their hind legs sniffing the air. Thus, due to their sensitive sense of smell, the bears at the Zoo can easily smell their food all the way from the animal kitchen and definitely know when food is on its way during meal times.
Catering for those bear necessities
Animal enrichment programmes encourage animals to use their senses and to experience different exciting alterations to their natural settings. This enhances activity and provides novel ways for the animals to engage in natural behaviour that takes them out of their usual routine.
With Robynn's support and guidance, the Zookies collected pine cones and filled them with an assortment of foods for the omnivorous Kodiak bears to enjoy. The tasty menu included tuna, vegetables, fruits, leaves, jelly powder, salad dressing and ice lollies that were filled with more fruits and vegetables.
Pine cones were used for this enrichment programme as they are naturally found in the Kodiak bear's original habitat and moreover challenged the bears to use their claws and tongue to extract the food. The ice lollies were a real treat for these bears whose habitat is the icy Alaska region, especially during the hot spell Pretoria has been experiencing this spring. Palm leaves and a selection of branches were also put inside the bear enclosure for them to play with.
Once the pine cone snacks were made, they were placed at the back of the bear enclosure which helped the animal keeper - Mbowane Mukhawana - to lure the two female bears into their night rooms. This was essential so that the pine cones, ice lollies and branches could be placed inside their enclosure.
In the meantime, the Zookies had the wonderful experience of seeing the bears up close in their night rooms before they were allowed - from the safe environment of the public viewing platforms - to point out to Robynn and Mbowane where to place the pine cones they had made. By this time quite a crowd had assembled at the bear viewing platforms, eagerly waiting to see what the bears would do once they were let out of their night rooms. This gave the Zookies an opportunity to explain to the public about the bears, the pine cones and ice lollies they had made and the purpose of the enrichment programme.
It did not take the bears long to discover that their night room's doors were open once more and they excitedly rushed out to the pine cones with the tuna and fruits and to the ice lollies. Once they had snacked on a pine cone or two they stood on their hind legs sniffing before investigating the rest of their enclosure - walking up to all the ice lollies, palm leaves, branches and pine cones that were placed all around.
Much fun was had by all, especially the bears who had taken the ice lollies and branches into their swimming areas to play with and to indulge in. Overall this turned out to be a very successful enrichment programme for the bears and for the Zookies to participate in.
Next time you visit the Zoo, keep your eyes open for Robynn and her team, who are constantly designing and implementing enrichment programmes to keep the NZG's animals busy and stimulated.
Claire Fordred, NZG Intern
The National Zoological Gardens of
South Africa is a proud facility of
the National Research Foundation