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Saying goodbye to sun bears

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

There are big changes coming soon to our tiger and Asian bear exhibits as we get ready to make over the 60-year-old spaces into naturalistic, state-of-the-art homes for these animals. Next week we’ll unveil our final design plans for the new space. But before we get caught up in what’s to come, we want to tell you about some related changes underway—saying goodbye to sun bears at Woodland Park Zoo.

As we started to gather ideas for the new exhibits that will replace this outdated part of the zoo, we had to get serious about planning for space. You see, we are seeking to deepen our commitment to and involvement in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan captive breeding programs for Asian bears. To become a center for endangered Asian bear breeding, we need to use exhibit space more efficiently to allow for multiple generations of bears—from newborns to the elderly—and account for the need to separate bears that may not be compatible outside of breeding season.

With this need for space, it became apparent that we could not provide such facilities for both species of Asian bears currently kept at the zoo—sloth bears and sun bears. So our animal care experts consulted with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and other institutions participating in Asian bear Species Survival Plans in order to determine the most appropriate species to maintain in our collection. Based on an extensive set of criteria including ease of visibility for visitors, record of success in breeding, suitability to the exhibit environment, and other factors, we determined the sloth bear was the best fit to maintain in the new exhibit complex.

That was a tough yet important decision to make, and it means we’ll no longer have sun bears in our collection at Woodland Park Zoo. Right now, two sun bears call Woodland Park Zoo home—our 4-year-old male Palu and 13-year-old female Suntil. This month, we're getting ready to place them in a new zoo home. These two bears have a strong bond so we're especially happy to have found a new home for them where they will get to stay together as a pair —Virginia Zoo, which just completed a new exhibit for sun bears.

After March 25—their last day on exhibit together—we’ll be getting ready to send Palu and Suntil on their cross-country trip. We hope with the warm weather and high humidity in Virginia that they’ll get a little kickstart in the hormone department and maybe make some babies together!

While our keepers get Palu and Suntil ready, we’re putting some final touches on our exhibit design plans that we’ll share with the public on March 22. We can’t wait to show you all the amazing features in our new, 2-acre exhibit complex that will get you closer than ever to sloth bears and tigers and connect you with ways to help them in the wild. We think you’ll be as excited as we are to see it all come together. More to come next week!

Photos (from top): Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo. Exhibit rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.


Unknown said…
Awww - I know this is old news, but we were just watching the sun bears on "Seven Worlds, One Planet" and I was sadly remembering how distressed the sun bear was at Woodland Park Zoo, back when I was a child. It was just pacing its enclosure. That was the only time I remember seeing a distressed animal there. I'm so glad to hear the sun bears got a better home!