Gus is easy to spot in the exhibit right now because he is shedding his winter coat and has lots of fur stuck to his back. Of course, we don’t have “hands on” with our bears, so the fur will have to work its way out naturally! Katy is currently doing some operant conditioning with our black bears, and she is hoping to teach Gus to put his back against the fence so that she can pull some of the winter coat out, but it remains to be seen if it will happen.
Our bears are some of the most entertaining animals to watch here at the museum. Gus is our only male bear, and he has some funny antics that make the keepers laugh on a regular basis. Even though he is the youngest bear, at only 3 years old, he is already the dominant bear in the enclosure!
Since black bears are naturally solitary animals, they have to form a heirarchy in order for them to co-exist with one another. It used to be that Urse was the top bear, but that changed over time as Gus got older. In fact, when Gus was less than a year old, he was so small that when he stood up, he still wasn’t as tall as Urse was sitting down! But he still wouldn’t back down from her, and was not scared to get slapped around a little bit. He would just dish it out back at her! Those are the classic signs of becoming a big dominant male black bear. And when he is full grown, he will be twice the size of Urse and will average somewhere between 500 and 600 pounds.
Even though he is the dominant bear in the enclosure, he often times still seems to be unsure or even “scared” of other things that you wouldn’t think are scary. For instance,when we did one of our emergency trainings with some “escaped bears”, he ran for his life when he saw the big stuffed bear that was supposed to be Urse! He is also very hesitant to get in the swimming pools, when bears like Mimi practically live in the water during the summer. He will get in the pools occasionally, but he has to think long and hard about it before getting in (it also helps if there is some incentive like a fruity ice block or a watermelon).
To the left is a picture of Katy working with Gus to teach him to put his paw up to the fence. This sort of training makes vet visits much easier; if the vet wants to look at his foot, Katy can just tell him to put it on the fence and he will easily oblige for a yummy peanut or marshmallow treat. Stay tuned for an EnrichBits post coming up soon where Kristen will talk more about operant conditioning with our animals!