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‘Watermelon’ takes first steps on grass!

So many people have followed blind Wilfred's story from when he first arrived with us in March 2008. Affectionately known as "Watermelon" because it was the only thing he would eat after being offloaded from the truck, this gorgeous boy is a profound example of how bears heal and forgive after being abused and deprived on the hell-hole farms.

His arrival picture shocked the media and audiences worldwide - but his survival and story today has melted the hearts of both staff and supporters as we celebrate the life of a bear who refused to give up.

Just recently Wilfred was relocated to join a gorgeous group of bears in House 8 - several of whom, like him, are blind, or semi-sighted - and the integrations slowly began.

All went well thankfully and today Wilfred is firm friends with Mityan and Akimo who were also moved over to House 8 to begin the next stage of their journey.

Just last week, Senior Bear Manager Nic and her team opened the den doors into the grassy enclosure so that these three brave bears could walk on grass together and enjoy the early days of spring. Over the next few weeks, they will gradually be introduced to the rest of the group in House 8 where they will live out the rest of their lives.

Here is Nic's summary of another perfect day in bearland:

A satisfying day once again. A while ago we integrated Wilfred, affectionately known to the staff as Watermelon/Xi Gua with Mityan and Akimo. The latter two have lived happily together for several years at the centre rotating access at Rupert's special garden. These two are blind and were housed in the special-care area for that reason.

However over the years, more bears with sight issues have found their home at the centre and several live already at House 8. So when Wilfred arrived in last year's rescue and we discovered he was blind, we discussed options for him.

On and off we have talked about moving Mityan and Akimo to a normal bear house so they could be managed as part of a normal group. So just after Christmas, we moved the three bears over to dens in house 8 and integrated Wilfred with Mityan and Akimo. Their friendships blossomed especially between Mityan and Wilfred.

The next step in our plan was to give these three blind bears access to their new enclosure so they could familiarise themselves with their new-found space and for Wilfred especially give him the opportunity to enjoy grass for the first time!

Today the big group spent a day inside, so that these three blind friends could enjoy their new environment and discover where everything is.

Mityan was the first to venture out and find the delicious food and treats that awaited them in the enclosures. A little later Akimo and finally Wilfred took his first tentative steps into the enclosure. For several minutes he cautiously put his front paws on the grass, but soon all four were on the grass.

Ten minutes later he was the other side of the enclosure and has spent a gloriously sunny day sniffing his way around, enjoying the joys of all the enrichment structures in the enclosure and wrestling with Mityan.

At one point he was on his back with all four legs in the air baring his belly to the Chengdu sun! There is still a way to go on this bear's journey. As the day drew to a close, and Wilfred lay contently on the grass reluctant to come into the den, who could blame him after years in a bear farm cage.

To see an inspiring slideshow of Wilfred's progress, please click here.

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