Black Bear Den
Ever wondered where our black bears disappear to every winter? Indie sleeps in a den box that we built for her, we have never seen Indie do any kind of digging for her own outside den and wanted to make sure she can go into torpor so a group of volunteers made it for her. If you look closely out on the habitat though, you can spot a hole in the right corner that is occupied by another resident in Hill’s Black Bear Woods. Val sleeps in an outdoor den that was dug out and renovated by her after taking it over from the previous resident. The Keepers check the den regularly during renovation in the fall to make sure it is safe for Val, all maintenance being done by Val herself with no help from the staff. In order to check to make sure it is safe for Val, keepers have to crawl down in it while she is in her back holding, the den being large enough for a full grown adult to fit in it. They go down to inspect its structure and that she isn't digging too far down or out of her habitat, ensuring there wont be any Black bears wondering down Gage Boulevard on their watch! In the wild bears would gather leaves, tree branches, grass, etc. to build their warm bed. Here at the Zoo, we provide them with leaves, straw, hay so they can make a bed. We give them more bedding every week or so and can see when they pull it into their den when they decide to pop out for a quick break.
Since Val rarely comes out during torpor, there are times keepers can go a good while without seeing her. To ensure she is doing well, we have an infrared camera we use to confirm that there is a warm, breathing Bear inside both dens. And even though bears do get bigger each fall in preparation for the winter and still come out to every so often throughout the winter, Val has never gotten stuck inside her den. Although there are times she has to wiggle her way in as we had previously seen earlier this year (Click here to checkout that video).
Val has been spotted more lately hanging out by the entrance of her den and has even made an appearance out on her habitat earlier this week! It seems as though she is getting ready to come out for the spring any time now, while she's still down there we have spotted a few other animals play around and take advantage of her absence. Be sure to pop on down to Hill’s Black Bear Woods and see if you too can see her poking her snout from her den or even spot her roaming around her habitat. As the days start to get warmer and she fully comes out of torpor, we will announce which student predicted her emergence correctly and win a behind the scenes with Val herself. Until them, if you haven't already, be sure to submit your guess!