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Bears Their Status, Conservation & Welfare in Captivity

Conference Proceedings

Co-Sponsored by :

The Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain & Ireland

The Zoological Society of Glasgow & the West of Scotland

A selection of papers from a Conference held at Glasgow Zoo, Scotland November 1991

Edited by R.J.P.O'Grady & D.G.Hughes
September 1994

The Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland

Copyright: 1994 Zoological Society of Glasgow and the West of Scotland

Citation: O'Grady, R.J.P. & Hughes, D.G. (eds) (1994). Bears: Their Status, Conservation & Welfare in Captivity. Zoological Society of Glasgow and the West of Scotland

Design: David G. Hughes and Lynne M. Collins

Published by: The Zoological Society of Glasgow and the West of Scotland, Glasgow Zoopark. Calderpark, Uddingston, Glasgow G71 7RZ.

ISBN : 0 9519439 1 X


by R.J.P.O'Grady Zoological Society of Glasgow & West of Scotland

It is with great pride and pleasure, that we in Glasgow hosted the first European Conference on the Status, Conservation and Welfare of Bears in Captivity. We feel that we have a special interest in this much maligned group of animals after gaining the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare 1989 Zoo Animal Welfare Award for our Asiatic black bear enclosures.

Although we are very proud of this award, it is worth remembering that when we set out to plan and build our enclosures the UFAW awards had not been devised. After twenty five years of negative experiences with our out-dated polar bear enclosure, we had some very positive views on what might be required in a modem, humane bear enclosure.

The keeping of bears in captivity is not new - the Romans sacrificed Caledonian brown bears in the Colosseum, AD 77. They perfected the techniques for capturing, then transporting such large and dangerous creatures. Analysis of their travelling crates, the cages and methods used to hold the bears - sometimes for months on end - show designs virtually unchanged for 2000 years.

Close examination of the cages in the Tower of London menagerie of the 18th and 19th century and the early days of the London Zoo in the 1820's and 1830's tell virtually the same story. For the most part every cage was characterised by a formidably strong and heavy construction and small size, frequently being no larger than a small room. In those circumstances, it should come as no surprise that most of the animals so confined showed varying degrees of disturbed behaviour.

This depressing scenario has continued virtually up to the present day with some illuminating exceptions. In the second half of the 13th century, around 1380, a polar bear in the Tower of London was frequently allowed out on a long chain to swim and catch fish in the Thames. In the 1940's, Whipsnade Zoo created a magnificent, heavily planted brown bear enclosure of some three acres in extent, and there were other large enclosures on the continent of varying types.

Despite the example set by Whipsnades enclosure, why wasn't it adopted as the norm or perhaps the minimum by zoos worldwide? It is too easy to say that others probably could not afford the cost. The real explanation is the absence of compassion, insight and understanding. We have all seen bear enclosures, where any significant improvement in space has been immediately negated by a deliberate increase in the numbers of bears, which promptly reduces the enclosure back to an unsightly desert or mud heap. The response of most zoos, as with other "destructive" creatures like porcupines or badgers, is to then concrete the floor of the enclosure which looks much tidier and can be maintained in a clean and hygienic condition.

Kept like this it is little wonder that bears through the centuries, have become notorious for their bizarre behaviour patterns in captivity. Observed and described by artists and scientists alike, many - especially the artists recognised these behaviours as not natural; to be "wrong", yet little was done until fairly recently.In zoos, particularly in the case of polar bears, such "stereotyping" became almost acceptable and until the mid 1980's even defended, on the grounds that the "head-bobbing" and "forward and backwards pacing" had been recorded in the wild, and was therefore "normal".

This "defending of the indefensible" is a commonly observed reaction. Although much has changed and improved, the basic dilemmas are still there though. On the one hand most of us are very keen to help with the conservation of some desperately threatened species of bears, yet on the other hand dread the long-term maintenance problems if our enclosures are, or become, out-dated, in need of expansion, refurbishment and enlargement.

Most zoos seize on the behavioural and environmental enrichment techniques currently available as an opportunity to do something right away and certainly these techniques do help these long lived and intelligent creatures. However the first essential is the provision of much, much larger "biologically sound" enclosures, to which behavioural enrichment techniques should provide the finishing touches.

It is up to us in the zoologically advanced world in Europe, to set the lead. Instead of 'kowtowing' to the antis we should be devising enclosures satisfying to all sides, so together we can harness the cumulative conservation energy, to do something about the abuses of performing bears in Greece, Turkey and India, and set up co-operative management programmes for 'endangered' species and sub-species of ursids.

To this effect, we were extremely privileged to be able to welcome Drs. Koen Brouwer of the EEP Executive office to the conference. Thanks to Koen's work we will eventually posses a detailed knowledge of the numbers and species of bears in captivity and be able to relate this to the situation in the wild and their long term captive maintenance. Really effective co-operative action will then become possible so that some at least of the currently imperilled species of bear will still be around in a hundred or two hundred years time when our great-grand children will be able to see them.


September 1994

Report of the Conference

Status Conservation & Coordination

A Review of the evolution, systematics, functional morphology
distribution and status of the Ursidae

European Coordination of Bears


Bear Ethics

The Maintenance and Breeding of Spectacled bear
Tremartos ornatus at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust

Brown bears and their welfare at the Highland Wildlife Park:
present practices and proposed developments

Bear welfare in Captivity - With particular reference to the
Asiatic black bear Selenarctos thibetanus

Power Fencing: Environmental Enrichment from a Box?


Workshop 1: Criteria for choice of species
Rapporteur: Nick L.Jackson, Welsh Mountain Zoo, Wales

Workshop 2: Research priorities
Rapporteur: Miranda F. Stevenson, Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh

Workshop 3: European Taxon Advisory Group for Bears
Rapporteur: Koen Brouwer, NFRZG, Amsterdam

Workshop 4: Behavioural needs of bears in captivity
Rapporteur: Trevor Poole, UFAW

Workshop 5: Japanese Bear Parks
Rapporteur: Victor Watkins, WSPA


Appendix I: Bear Groups

Appendix II: 'tic a l'ours

Appendix III: The Bear, by Robert Frost (poem)