THEY haven’t spent a single day in hibernation after enduring two decades in a travelling circus.
Now, European brown bears Suzy, Carmen and Peggy will have the chance to hibernate for the first time this winter after three dens were created especially for them at the Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian.
Zoo owners Brian Curran and his wife Shirley spent months fundraising to save the trio from a life of misery in a holding pen in Belgium and have almost raised their £80,000 target – albeit seven months after the bears arrived at the West Calder zoo.
Since their arrival from Belgium in March, the bears have settled in well to their specially-built sanctuary at Five Sisters, complete with a waterfall and indoor and outdoor enclosures.
Two dens were recently created in the woodland area to give the bears the chance to hibernate over the winter, with a third expected to be ready in the holding pen area by next week.
The dens were made from culvert pipes – which each weigh around 3.5 tonnes and measure 1.8m in length – and have been blocked off at the back with rocks and soil, and filled with bark and straw.
Mrs Curran, 50, said: “I don’t know if the bears will hibernate or not because they have never had the chance to do it as they have been kept in a circus trailer and made to work for most of their life.
“If they didn’t work during the winter, they would be in a circus lorry with straw. They have got the choice now to hibernate and we will let nature take its course.”
The bears, born in captivity, spent 20 years in a travelling circus, living in cages measuring just ten metres square. When the circus owner, who lived with the bears in Germany, retired, he took them to Belgium. However, he became ill and ended up in hospital long-term, prompting the bears’ move to the temporary holding centre in Belgium.
Construction of their new home at the Five Sisters zoo was completed earlier this year and it was hoped that the remainder of the funds would have been raised in time for the bears’ arrival in March.
However, Mr and Mrs Curran were left almost £20,000 short of their £80,000 target and have continued fundraising and accepting donations.
The total now stands at £76,120 and they are urging kind-hearted residents to help with one final fundraising push.
“We are not far off the £80,000 but we still have the upkeep of the bears – it’s an ongoing cost,” Mrs Curran said.
“Our feeding costs have doubled since the bears came because they eat in a day as much as the whole zoo eats.”
The bears may start hibernating at the end of this month or next month, and are likely to reappear for food and water before the spring.
Wishaw-based CPM Group, which deals in the manufacture and supply of concrete products in the UK, donated the pipes used to make the dens.
Secrets of the big sleep
BROWN bears spend nearly half their lives underground in a state of hibernation.
Females even give birth and nurse a litter underground during the winter months, although they will lose a massive 40 per cent of their body weight in the process.
Hibernation is a way of adapting to short food supplies in the winter. Bears may dig their own den or hibernate in natural caves. They enter the dens/caves during October/November and stay for five to six months.
During hibernation, a bear’s heart rate and body temperature may drop, but the bear can be easily awakened. Hibernating bears curl up to conserve heat. They may temporarily leave the den during the hibernation months.