Asiatic Black Bear House and Enclosures at Glasgow Zoopark
1986, Glasgow Zoo was approached by officials of Dumbarton District
Council seeking assistance with the problem of bears at Cameron
Loch Lomond Wildlife Park (formerly, Loch Lomond Bear Park). Seventeen
Brown and Black bears were kept in a large, open compound and were
forever escaping. The Local Authority was on the point of serving
an enforcement order, which could have resulted in the destruction
of all the bears.
the assistance of the Federation of Zoos, Clive Hollands of the
St Andrew Animal Fund, John Robbins of Animal Concern (Scotland)
Ltd., Clubb-Chipperfield, and the Scottish Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals, homes were found for the majority of the
bears. The owners then asked Glasgow Zoo if we would take the group
of Asiatic Black Bears. Having been unable to place these bears
in any collection in Europe, we considered this request seriously,
as there seemed to be a very real possibility that the bears might
have to be destroyed. The owners offered to contribute a maximum
of 30,000 gbps towards the cost of the bears' relocation and housing
and, at the request of Clive Hollands, also agreed to contribute
as much of the existing perimeter fencing as we required.
were extremely cautious as we already had three Polar bears. All
were in their thirties and were exhibited in their original enclosure
which, when it was constructed in 1959, was believed to be very
large but soon became outdated. We were anxious not to commit ourselves
to project which because of limited funding might be:
a) too small or inadequate at the outset, or
b) became so with the advent of additional knowledge within the
lifetime of the bears.
now we were working very closely with Clive Hollands and Jeff Robbins,
and a site was identified towards the rear of the developed Zoo
on land also owned by our Zoological Society. This consisted of
a deep, incised valley containing many mature trees and thick with
undergrowth. It would, we felt, give us the sort of "enriched" habitat
which would make a sufficiently stimulating enclosure for such intelligent
and inquisitive animals, provided we could afford to fence enough
of it. Even with the original Loch Lomond fencing being re-used
the costs were considerable, especially as the fence had to be dismantled
carefully and then re-erected. To comply with the 1981 Zoo Licensing
Act the fence also had to be buried one metre into the ground and
a further one metre inward-facing at that point along its entire
many further discussions and costings it was eventually decided
to proceed even though the full cost of the project was likely to
be well in excess of the 30,000 gbps. However, we felt that, with
the assistance of the Manpower Services Commission, "Community Programme"
teams which could carry out much of the work, the project was feasible.
reasons of accessibility and security we planned to locate the house
and the first enclosure (of approximately one acre) on top of the
hill. The second enclosure (approximately 3 acres) would be immediately
adjacent and run down the 35 degree, wooded valley sides where at
its foot it would enclose part of a stream. The total length of
the fence was approximately 900 metres and proved supremely difficult
to erect in places because of the steepness of the terrain and the
necessity for burying the wire so deeply and thoroughly underground.
prevent the bears from climbing over the 2.5 metre weldmesh fence
it is topped with 1.5 metres of corrugated iron. This is unsightly,
although the effect has been softened to some extent by careful
painting, by positioning the fence close to the banking or against
hedging, and by further planting. The 120 metres of fence on the
far side of the valley is almost invisible, being below eye level
and hidden by vegetation.
fencing does not, in general, work for bears in such situations.
The only alternative to a fence would have been a brick wall 3.5
metres high. This would however, be prohibitively expensive. The
high cost of the perimeter barrier is probably the main reason why
many zoo bear enclosures are still so small.
of our negative experiences with Polar bears, we were determined
to create two large outside enclosures so that the bears could be
enticed into one or the other without the necessity for locking
them into a house, per se. This would permit both easy maintenance
and "enrichment" such as the scattering of food items in the undergrowth.
One enclosure could also, theoretically, be "rested" either to conserve
the habitat or to re-stimulate the bears' interest.
seen the way the bears lived at Loch Lomond - where some had dug
natural dens underground - we were aware that housing for bears
need not be elaborate. However, we felt it important that the house
be constructed to a high standard, both aesthetically and in terms
of the bears' welfare. Because these animals have been kept in captivity
for centuries, are hardy and tolerant, and are extremely strong
and destructive, bear dens in zoos have tended to be little more
than concrete dungeons, sometimes damp and unpleasant.
were some interesting lessons to be learned from the way the bears
were managed at Loch Lomond. For example, the underground dens were
invariably dug into sandy, south-facing banks and were dry. Sometimes
they were even dug (deliberately, we feel) under a tarmacadamed
road to provide a waterproof covering. The bears also created above-ground,
sunbathing nests. These were always situated on a sunny ridge or
knoll with a good view towards the main gate and any other vista
which the particular bear considered important, for instance, a
section of the perimeter road outside the fence where they could
get early warning of the approach of a keeper's vehicle. Both types
of nests were lined with well-chewed hay.
not curled up sleeping the bears would sit in the outside nests,
Buddha-like, swaying from side to side. Just outside the nest rim
would be a fairly neat assortment of favoured objects consisting
mainly of stored food items, i.e. dried meat on bones, smooth stones
and pieces of wood. There were never any faeces in the nest or close
the preliminary estimates for the house we used the basic dimensions
of the new bear dens at West Berlin Zoo. Eventually a house was
constructed consisting of four inside dens each approximately 3.5
metres in length by 2 metres in width and with weldmesh fronts and
no bars (particularly requested by Clive Hollands). We deliberately
made the dens high - nearly 3 metres - and roofed them with pre-cast
concrete slabs. This then permitted us to provide furniture at different
we were only thinking of high level resting ledges and benches.
However, we soon improved on this with some innovatory den furniture.
This ranged from high-level, hay-filled hammocks constructed of
welded steel flat bar and bolted into the corners about 2 metres
above the floor, to wooden ledges and heavy ladders.
of our experience with Polar
bears, who can be frustratingly difficult to entice into the
house to permit servicing of the outdoor enclosure, we put a great
deal of thought and effort into the design of the doors between
the dens and the main enclosure. We decided to use heavy steel doors
connected by wire hawsers above the concrete ceiling and counterweighted
so that they would move smoothly, quickly and quietly. Because the
keeper can move each door from inside the house whilst simultaneously
making available a "reward" of a food item through the weldmesh
front, these bears are now very straightforward to secure when necessary.
There is little of the stress which is a feature of so many other,
older enclosures elsewhere.
terms of "artificial" furniture in the outside enclosures, little
has been provided in the lower, wooded enclosure, where a natural
environment was preferred. In the top enclosure we have constructed
some very tall, heavy wooden platforms and covered rain shelters.
1989, the innovatory nature of these enclosures and house was recognised
by the gaining of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
National Zoo Animal Welfare Award, the first time this had been
achieved in Scotland. At the presentation, we were humbled to hear
TV zoo vet, David Taylor, describe them as "the best zoo bear enclosures
in the world".