|Fudge exploring her birthday treats|
She was born during Britain’s “Winter of Discontent” presided over by Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan. When the BBC strikes allowed, the TV schedule at the time included the likes of Mr Benn, Jackanory, The Clangers and Crackerjack. She also shares her birthday with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929) and actor Lloyd Bridges (1913).
Fudge arrived at Dartmoor Zoo (then, Dartmoor Wildlife Park) in January 1981. She was later joined by Haley in 1988 and big male, Ben in 1993. Sadly, Ben passed away in 2012. Both Hayley and Fudge have spent the last 25 years together, 20 of those years in their current enclosure. As Bears in the wild only live to around 20 to 25 years at the most in the wild, a 35th birthday is one to celebrate.
To mark the occasion, the keepers prepared a teddy bears’ picnic complete with a bear sized Twister board. Careful consideration is needed when giving animals enrichment, so animal friendly materials were used such as water soluble glue and water based paints to ensure the Bears don’t come to any harm should they decided to eat some of their enrichment.
The enclosure was decorated with brightly painted recycled paper cups strung between the trees to give it a party atmosphere. Cardboard boxes that the keepers bring in from home were covered in wrapping paper and filled with scents such as curry powders and perfumes along with straw to fill them out to act as presents. We provided a piñata filled with nuts and treats and hung from a tree. As a special treat Hayley and Fudge were given sugar free blackcurrant jelly and a bear-friendly birthday cake which included essential vitamins and minerals, wholemeal flour, eggs and dried blueberries. All the treats were laid out in the enclosure with fresh fish, fruit and vegetables.
All of the animal staff were there to celebrate the big day. Watching the bears push their faces into the presents to cover themselves in the strong smelling scents and eating all the specially prepared food (especially the birthday cake) is a very rewarding part of the job.
The fact that Fudge is the oldest mammal in the zoo and is not the only reason her birthday deserves special attention. Whilst records from London Zoo indicate that she is a European Brown Bear, her physical characteristics suggest that she is actually a Syrian Brown Bear. Staff are working with experts at Plymouth University examining her DNA to establish her true heritage. If this is found to be the case, she will be the oldest bear of her kind in captivity.
Syrian Brown Bears are one of the most endangered sub species, listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Whilst they can no longer be found in Syria, a military flight recently spotted some in Iraq via night vision cameras.