Thank you all very much for your patience this month. It has been quite a struggle to get this piece written, and I don’t honestly know why. I hope you enjoyed the “summer rerun” I linked to on August 1! Considering how infrequently I get down to see the grizzly bears – relative to all the rest of the animals in the Zoo – they are pretty well-represented among my favourite photos and “Calendar Animals.” When you toss in the polar and panda bears, I am fairly certain that I have more “calendar-worthy” shots of animals in the Ursidae family than any other. And why not? They’re cute, fluffy, adorable, and playful; they have some of the cutest babies on the planet; and they are so often doing something so goofy I literally laugh out loud at them. They are also just ridiculously smart.
At right is a shot of the Toronto Zoo’s two grizzly bears, Samson and Shintay, taken this spring not long after they had roused themselves from a long dormancy in their dens. We had a bit of an early winter last year and a very late spring so this shot was actually taken in late May. Notice how skinny the two of them are, and how incredibly blonde Shintay is at this time. Still, they were moving about as spry and easy of gait as ever, which is terrific to see as Shintay is 20 years old right now and Samson is a year older than that. Last year, there was some shuffling of the Keepers responsible for the Canadian Domain (where these bears live) and with the change of staffing came a new regimen for all of the animals down there. As a result, I learned on the day I took the two smaller photos here that Samson had just voluntarily received his West Nile Virus shot. (By now, I expect Shintay has done the same.) This is always very exciting, when an animal has behavioural training which “takes” so well that they do these voluntary things, but let me make it even more exciting. This was the first time in his 21 years of life that Samson has ever done this. It didn’t take him 21 years to learn; he just hadn’t been trained before. And he learned to do this in just a few weeks.
I told you they were smart. Now you know their Keepers are awesome, too.
Another important change was made to the grizzlies’ daily activities this year. Instead of tossing in a bunch of apples and carrots over the roof of the viewing area – always entertaining for visitors but a bit dull for the bears – the Keepers are now bringing Samson and Shintay off exhibit briefly just before Keeper Talk time, then entering the enclosure to clean up and place snacks and goodies all over the place (including in balls and tubes), before releasing the bears to go about and forage for their yummies. In the photo here, Shintay has just demolished an ear of corn (which she discovered in the north corner of the exhibit and carried over to the pool in her mouth) and is now contemplating whether to venture out onto the log to retrieve that half-melon in the bottom of the frame, or to roll around the ball which is just barely visible by her right front foot, to see what surprises it may offer up. (Spoiler alert: she chose the ball, giving Samson easy access to the fruit in a few moments.)
Having to move about to eat, figure out how to get food out of objects, and choose which to go after first: all of these things are vital enrichment to the two bears and will make their golden years much more interesting and rewarding. A similar process is ongoing with most of the other animals in the Domain; in the case of the two cougars (who are 17 and 13 years old), I have already seen amazing changes to their coats, their demeanours, and their moods. It’s just amazing to watch. And this is absolutely not to cast any aspersions on the Keepers that were previously the primary Domain Keepers, because the two main gentlemen who worked down there (one has retired and one has moved to another part of the Zoo) were wonderful people: easy to talk to, eager to share, and just animal lovers to the bone. But there’s never anything wrong with shaking things up – especially when it is exciting for the creatures in your charge. BTW: Bailey (photo above) is the younger of the couple; here is a shot of 17-year-old Felicia, sleeping like a domestic kitten in the sun:
The lustre of that coat is absolutely stunning; I noticed the change immediately upon first seeing them this spring.
Now, for those of you who did go back and read the Samson post from 2016 to which I linked in the “placeholder” on August 1st: I mentioned cryptically that I had one more photo from that day’s shoot that I had hoped to use in a future calendar, but I never did. Here, then, is that photo:
Isn’t it interesting how similar this is to the one of Samson that was this month’s photo? I love these guys. I really do. Oh, here is another angle of Samson in the pool when I took that photo for this month:
And, for good measure, a couple more shots from that day that I am particularly fond of:
Next month: another repeat performance, but this time I will try my very best to not use a placeholder and have a new post ready for you in time. And this animal is so very beautiful I think more photos than prose might be forthcoming. As always, thanks for reading…and ♫See you… in Septeeeemmmmmberrrrrr…♫