Bear Hut Will Close June 1
On June 1, 2010 Grandfather Mountain will close its Bear Hut, the outpost from which visitors have purchased treats to feed the habitat's bears for decades. While the Bear Hut will be open during April and May, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation believes the June 1 change will bring exciting benefits to the bears and visitors alike.
"For years, by allowing the public to throw food to bears we have unintentionally been doing two things," said GMSF Executive Director Penn Dameron. "We may have been giving people the impression that it is okay to give food to wild bears, and we have been training our own bears to beg for food."
In the past, Grandfather Mountain visitors who have walked down to the main overlook at the bear habitat have had the opportunity to purchase a few pieces of food from the Bear Hut to toss to the bears. Early on the public was allowed to give the bears dried apples and peanuts, but after the animals became overweight, a food made specifically for bears called omnivore diet was substituted.
Today, in addition to the apples, oranges, carrots and sweet potatoes that the bears receive each morning, the omnivore is actually part of their daily menu. However when the public is allowed to feed the bears, it becomes difficult to track how much food each animal actually consumes. The bears that have "cuter" begging techniques often get more to eat, while others sometimes do not get their full portion for the day.
"Over the years, the practice of public feeding has slowly been phased out in most zoos to improve the physical health and psychological wellbeing of the animals," said Habitat Manager Christie Tipton. "Starting June 1, Grandfather’s bears will receive measured portions of omnivore diet and fresh produce, ensuring that each bear gets exactly the right amount of food each day."
This lifestyle change will open up new and exciting opportunities for the Mountain’s guests to observe natural bear behaviors. Visitors will be able to see the bears playing with each other, climbing on rocks, wallowing in the pond, or just walking around being themselves. An extensive enrichment program will also be in place to keep the bears active and intellectually stimulated. “Enrichment” is any diversion that makes an animal's life more interesting. It might involve giving them a ball to play with, releasing live fish into their pond, or hiding food for them to forage.
Enrichment times will be posted at the main bear overlook and Grandfather's habitat staff will be on hand to answer any questions.
"By no longer allowing the public to feed the bears, the bears will not only exhibit more natural behaviors, they will also get along better with each other," said Tipton, explaining that the bears argue more when they compete for their food than when they are fed separately.
"Our new practices will give the public a better chance to see bears behaving more as they would in the wild,” added Dameron. “It will be a more natural experience for both the bears and the visitors."
Grandfather Mountain began keeping bears in 1968 as part of a wildlife propagation program. A pair of young bears were acquired from the Atlanta Zoo, but the female refused to revert to the wild because she had been imprinted on humans and did not know how to survive on her own. She was given the name Mildred and Grandfather Mountain became her permanent home. In 1973, a spacious environmental habitat was built for Mildred and her cubs so she could live in a more natural situation.
Over the last four decades, Grandfather Mountain has been the permanent home for 17 bears. In all, 59 cubs have been born inside the habitat, with ten of those cubs born to Mildred the Bear.
Eight bears live in Grandfather’s habitats today. Of the seven females and one male, none are genetically related to Mildred.
The Bear Hut will operate during April and May from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, affording one last window of opportunity to feed Grandfather’s bears before the concession closes on June 1.
Grandfather Mountain is a 600-acre scenic attraction and nature preserve located near Linville, NC on US Highway 221, one mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 305. The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation established to preserve Grandfather Mountain, operate the nature park in the public interest, and participate in educational and research activities. All proceeds from sale of tickets and souvenirs go toward caring for and presenting Grandfather Mountain in a manner that inspires good stewardship in others.
P.O. Box 129 - US 221 & Blue Ridge Parkway - Linville, NC - 28646
Phone 800-468-7325 Fax: 828-733-2608 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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