Earlier this year, around May/June we noticed that Mimi (one of our Black Bears) was displaying aggressive behavior towards the keepers. When we would open up the bear house at closing she would charge at us, sometimes huff or spit or pace the fence line. While this behavior isn’t completely atypical for Mimi it seemed to come out of no where and with an increase in frequency. We already knew it didn’t matter which keeper was opening the house as she was aggressing at everyone. So we picked a variable that we could easily measure and manipulate to observe. We decided to see if the presence of enrichment items in the house had an effect on her behavior.
We observed her behavior for about a month until the behavior tapered off as suddenly as it began. Once I analyzed the data, it showed there was no correlation between enrichment being in the house or not and her behavior. It also showed that there were only 10 incidents of unwanted behavior. Only 7 of those were aggression towards keepers with the other 3 only being pacing incidents.
So I began to brainstorm about what variables we could measure next year when I started to look at the timeline a little closer. It then occurred to me that Black Bear breeding season starts in mid-late May and goes through July. This was the exact time we were seeing aggression from Mimi. It is also very common for animals to have heightened aggression during breeding season. Without further observations, I can’t be 100% sure that her aggression is caused by breeding season but I think it is a pretty good guess! We will definitely have to keep this in mind going into next year!