Białystok - new enclosure and old problems

Jola - a female bear from Białystok (eastern Poland), was born in 1986 in zoo Poznań and there she spent the first year of her life. Next 25 years she has been kept in a small concrete cage of 70 m2 (753 square feet) without any enrichment. Bialystok authorities were criticised repeatedly for conditions in the zoo:

New enclosure for bears was opened at the beginning of July 2012. This opening was also an opportunity to solve bear problems in Warsaw Zoo, at least partly. Grześ, the only male in Warsaw, has been moved to Bialystok. He has worked as a circus bear, and then been kept in extremely small cage in circus base in Julinek (near Warsaw) for many years. Finally, in 2007 he was moved to the Warsaw Zoo. There are 4 females now in Warsaw Zoo. Two of them are kept in the “street enclosure” outside of the zoo, next to the tram stop (Aleja Solidarności street). The location of the enclosure is controversial and being criticized by many people. The zoo Director declares that a new large semi-natural enclosure for bears will be built in the zoo. Joining two adult bears is always risky, especially on limited area. Jola has been alone for the whole life. The area of more than 1000 m2 (0,25 acre) for the two bears is not sufficient, so the welfare has to be improved by environmental enrichment.

We conducted behavioural observations and discussed the situation with zoo staff and represantive of the municipality on 17th and 18th of August 2012. It turned out that the behaviour of a female is not the only problem. Additionally Jola is afraid to enter indoor cage. She has been spending all the time outside since the release into new enclosure.

Both bears do not approach each other at a distance less than a few meters. The zoo staff spreads the food inside In order to encourage the female to enter indoors. The result of this method is a weight loss which is clearly visible. The bear tries to reach food without entering the cage.

We have found that about 90% of the activity is devoted to stereotypic movements, however the bear responds positively to food being scattered in enclosure to distract her from pacing. Stereotypic behaviour is also being interrupted for drinking (mainly from the moat). Stereotypic behaviour is intensive and exhausting. While sleeping, the female nervously responds to any sudden stimuli (noises, birds).


The situationis is a result of mistakes during releasing and joining procedures, of which the most important are the following:

- the bear should be introduced to a fully equipped enclosure, where there are elements stimulating to explore 
(tree trunks, some shelter where an animal can stay out of sight of visitors, environmental enrichment tools). Intensive efforts to stimulate exploration should be introduced and continued from the first moments in the new enclosure;

- the bear should not be joined with another bear 
(if it was appropriate or necessary at all) before better acclimatization after the whole life in tiny cage, what in her case primarily means a significant reduction in stereotypic behaviours and other signs of stress and increase in the amount of time spent on exploration. Bears should have been given more time to get used to the indoors, new smells, including those of other animal new in th area.

Our recommendations
The fear of entering indoors and intensity of stereotypies reflects stress and problems in coping with the new situation. Intensive efforts are needed to eliminate negative reactions and to stimulate the animal to exploit 
 fully the opportunities offered by the new enclosure.

It should be noted that focusing only on the issue of entering indoors without sufficient focus on mental shape will have its further consequences and the female will not go back inside eve if successfully closed there and then released again. 
Activities aiming to improve the welfare of Jola should be to distance the male completely. If this is impossible because of various reasons, it should be considered whether the change indoors could be possible so that the bears could be kept at appropriate distance.
The staff should introduce intensive efforts to improve the mental shape of Jola. Working time in a daily cycle should be organized in a different way so to spent more time observing the bear and to stimulate her. The main task for zoo keepers should be the decrease of abnormal behaviour by encouraging the animal to explore the enclosure, providing possibly only positive stimuli. This can be done e.g. by spreading the range of fine food (dry food for dogs, nuts, acorns, raisins and other driedfruit, freshfruit or chopped small pieces of other food items). The female remains motivated by hunger to explore the area in search of small pieces of food that should be more scaterred than only provided indoors. A work to improve her mental shape should be to stimulate natural behaviours.
Limited feeding being applied currently is too drastic. Motivation to eat is, of course, very strong, but a fear of indoor cage, noise of the locking mechanism and stress associated with the presence of a male are conflicting motivations and in this case winning with hunger. This is confirmed by the fact that so far the reduction of feeding outside without using any positive stimulation to encourage the bear has not worked and she has lost weight. Efforts should be made to ensure that the bear recognizes indoor space as a safe place and a source of favourite food. If possible, the change of locking mechanism should be considered for silent one. If this is not possible, desensitizing training with this sound should be performed - e.g. playing this sound while providing positive stimulus (throwing favourite food etc.).

It should be priority to prevent further loss of weight. August and September are the season when bears should being given 10 000 to 14 000 kcal/day when kept on natural diet. 

UPDATE after two months
mid-September, the female has been entering indoors and the amount of time spent on pacing decreased. Exploration of the external enclosure has increased. Over the next few weeks the female will not be locked inside until anxiety reaction will dissapear. The locking mechanism will be exchanged for silent one. Changes in enclosure furnituring are planned (more elements to stimulate natural behaviour). To significantly improve the mental shape there is a long-term and consequent action needed, but the first step has been made.

The expertise with detailed recommendations has been provided free of charge, costs of travel were covered by MIĘDZYNARODOWY RUCH NA RZECZ ZWIERZĄT „VIVA” Foundation. Special thanks to Nuria Selva and Adam Wajrak for accommodation, support and help when our car broke seriously.

is empty. An enrichment and furniture to stimulate natural behaviour is lacking. It should be changed. Big water moat and natural surface are the only positives.

JOLA (earlier known as Yogi)
In spite of changes, stereotypic behaviour dominates in her activity (90% of time).

is very intensive. It exhausts the bear and at this stage can by dangeorous for health. 

since has been released in new enclosure (two months before), does not want to enter indoors. She tries to take food pulling her paw into the cage.

has been transferred from Warsaw Zoo. He is a former circus bear.

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