Despite the onset of spring, as ever it’s the bears that are setting their own pace at our China sanctuary - as our bear and vet teams plan around three bears who aren’t quite ready to wake up after winter.
Sanctuary staff are keen to begin integrating juveniles Holly and Wang Cai (pictured wrestling below) with the larger bears, but while the snoozers snooze on, staff are biding their time.
The three in question - Minnie, Pixie (below, playing) and Emy (bottom) obviously love a lie-in and are still sleeping soundly in House 1 – where Holly and Wang Cai’s integration will take place. Some bears pair up during the winter, becoming inseparable, and this is exactly how Pixie and Emy have spent the cold season. They share the same basket and keep each other warm, only occasionally coming down to eat and drink some water.
Moon bears naturally hibernate during the winter months, although the trait varies from region to region. In warmer climes, such as southern China and Southeast Asia, moon bears often exhibit signs of what is known as winter dormancy, rather than true hibernation. In these areas the bears tend to show reduced activity and appetite, and sleep for increased periods. At our Chengdu sanctuary in China, winter dormancy is seen in many of the bears.
Those bears that demonstrate winter dormancy behaviour are put on what Bear and Vet Team Director, Nic Field and her team call “winter lock down”. She says:
“We maintain records of all the bears who have a history of winter dormancy and monitor their behaviour and appetite closely so that we can anticipate when they will be settling down. When those tell tale signs are exhibited by the bears we put them on winter lock down, which means they are shut in the dens before they can fall asleep out in the enclosure. If they were to sleep in the enclosure, we would be unable to clean and setup food and enrichment for the bears that are still active.
“During this period we will offer them straw and browse and at least one feed a day and of course, access to water - but generally, we leave them to sleep. Some bears will sleep several days without coming down from their baskets but it is important that we continue to give them the choice of food and water. Many bears here, even those that are extremely dormant, will still stir at least once a day."
Of course, on bear bile farms, there is no opportunity for bears to exhibit natural winter dormancy due to their general poor health, dreadful diets and tiny cages. Seeing the bears’ natural behaviours return gives our staff great pride.
Last year, late sleepers Pixie and Emy only emerged from winter dormancy in May, which means that Holly and Wang Cai are just going to have to wait that little bit longer before meeting their new house mates.