Bear Necessities

On Thursday Class 4 set off on an expedition to visit the only polar bears in England, who are homed at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. Their topic this half term is Frozen Kingdom; an opportunity to learn about the incredible environments of the Arctic and Antarctic.

On arrival at the park we visited the meerkats; it was quite early and a little chilly and most were curled up in their enclosure, rather than being outside, although a couple were perched high on the rocks on look-out duty.

After leaving the meerkats, we headed towards the woodland walk, which is home to the baboons and the painted dogs. There were two large baboons perched on top of large poles and a much younger baboon who was being put in his place by a third, older animal. Unfortunately the painted dogs were too far away for us to see.

One of the lovely aspects of the Park are the areas that allow you to walk through the enclosures with the animals running free. The first of these that we came to was the lemur enclosure; home to ring-tailed and red-bellied lemurs. As it was early, and they had not yet been fed, the lemurs themselves were in their cages, however the doors were open for them to come into the larger space if the wanted to.

Our next port of call was our lesson about polar bears. This was called “Bear Necessities”. Led by Rachel (one of the keepers), we discovered just how big polar bears were. It was incredible to find that the paw of a polar bear was larger than both our feet when we stood on the outline of a paw print, especially when we realised that it was the print of a 6-year old bear, not a fully grown adult. She also showed us a cast taken of Victor’s paw. Victor is a 30-year old polar bear who has retired at the Park. He has 16 cubs in various zoos around the world and is too old to be park of the breeding programme.

The breeding programme is important, because although polar bears are not yet endangered, they are considered to be at risk. There are approximately 26,000 polar bears in the wild, however Rachel explained that due to climate change, their Arctic habitat is reducing, and food is harder to come by. A breeding programme should help ensure that the species survives. She showed us how we can monitor one or two bears that have been tagged by using the website https://polarbearsinternational.org/polar-bears/tracking/

A highlight of the lesson was dressing Noah as a polar bear in order to learn about the special adaptations the bears have made in order to cope with the harsh polar conditions. These included learning about their skin, which incredibly actually black, and their fur which despite looking white is transparent. Scientists are investigating why this might be: initially they thought it was so the sun’s rays could penetrate the thick fur and reach the skin, but this has proved not to be the case – at the moment the reasons for this are still frustratingly unknown.

After our lesson, lunch and walking through the wallaby enclosure it was time to find the real live bears. There are 4 at the park, Victor, Nobby, Pixel and Nissan. We had already heard from Rachel how Nobby loved to roll in the wood chip pile and was frequently brown, not white. When we arrived, Nobby was bust investigating the large pile of wood chippings, and then proceeded to roll for several minutes on his back. True to form, he ended up a beautiful shade of brown – definitely not looking like a polar bear!

Victor, Nissan and Pixel were in the opposite enclose. A large box of fish had been thrown in and Victor was happily chomping his way through it. In the corner, Pixel and Nissan were lying together, but soon went off to explore the enclosure whilst Victor (having finished his dinner) went for a swim. We had learned from Rachel, just how much polar bears love to swim, and the two younger bears followed Victor in, paddling together in the shallow water.

We spent a long time watching these huge animals. Nothing quite prepares you for just how big they are, even after the workshop where we were able to hold a replica skull. It was a lovely day. We also saw: camels, brown bear and the lions who had serenaded us around the park. Whilst standing in front of them, the two males, roared across to the other male in the enclosure opposite.

An amazing conclusion to a lovely day. We hope you enjoy the photos.

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