Sunday, 27 January 2013

Farewell to Ben

Ben the bear 1991 - 2012
It was with great sadness that the zoo lost a big character last year; Ben, our male European Brown Bear, passed away in October at the age of 22. Following extensive consultation with vets he had been diagnosed with an untreatable spinal abscess resulting in paralysis in his back leg. We found ourselves faced with one of those decisions that is straight-forward, yet incredibly difficult to make. He was put to sleep on the morning of 18th of October.

Born in 1991, Ben arrived at Dartmoor Zoo two years later in 1993. He became a well known character and firm favourite with visitors. Before the zoo was taken over, visitors could feed the bears from the viewing area. This created unnatural behaviours such as begging in which the bears would sit up and raise their paws in the air. Once this was stopped and a more suitable and regulated diet of scattered fruits, vegetables, fish and meat was put in place, the begging also stopped. All three of the bears began foraging naturally for their food and managed to shed a few pounds in the process. Despite this change in diet Ben’s favourite meal never changed, it was always a Cornish pasty.

Known to many as a greedy bear, Ben would frequently let the keepers know if they were taking too long to get the food into the enclosure, huffing and grumbling in annoyance. He would always be first out at feed times picking through the meal for his much-loved grapes, as a result he was often seen sleeping off a full belly.

My personal favourite Ben moment occurred when three male members of staff spent three hours of hard graft preparing enrichment by digging a 1.5 metre tube into the ground with spades; the thought was that the bears have to work a bit harder for their food, sniffing it out and reaching into the tube to retrieve it. Ben had other ideas and within 30 seconds had ripped the tube out of the ground and was happily munching on an apple. The look on their faces was priceless.

Ben’s domineering size and personality ensured the other bears were kept on their toes whilst his strength and excellent sense of smell kept keepers on the ball, thinking of novel ways to provide enrichment. He is sorely missed by staff and visitors alike but maybe most of all by the companions he leaves behind, Hayley and Fudge.

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