As you may have read from Day 1 of Polar Bear Week, our bears are lucky to live in a sub-arctic region, meaning they go through seasonal changes similar to that of the wild bears. One of the first signs winter is approaching is when the bears’ activity level begins to increase. In fall we will often see Ganuk and Henry wrestling together and Inukshuk starting to interact more with challenging enrichments.
When Ganuk and Henry are sparring, although Ganuk is much larger than Henry, he will often let Henry dominate their matches. This play builds stronger communication between the bears as well as physical and mental stimulation. Ganuk is learning how to communicate to Henry when he has had enough, and Henry is learning how to read Ganuk’s body language when he may not be in a mood to play.
With the temperature dropping all our bears are spending more time outside. Inukshuk’s interest in investigating his enclosures and enrichments has a marked increase from the summer months. He tends to spend more time with a new enrichment if it is challenging and mobile, meaning his keepers have to come up with even more stimulating designs.
Another seasonal change is the growth of their winter coat. Polar Bears have two layers of fur; a dense undercoat, which is protected by another layer of fur called guard hairs. The undercoat is shed during the spring when the temperature starts to get warmer and when hormone levels begin to drop from breeding season. The undercoat then grows back in when the temperature begins to drop. Underneath their thick fur is a fat layer which can reach up to 4” thick. To grow this fat layer, the bears are fed a lot more protein and fat which helps their bodies to keep warm during the winter months. It is important to increase the bears’ diets as we are a sub-arctic region and temperatures can reach -50 degrees Celsius.
Although the temperature seems cold, it has gradually been getting warmer each winter season. To learn more about temperatures rising and what that means for polar bears, tune in tomorrow for our next polar bear week blog edition!