It wasn’t exactly a surprise to staff at the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat that, when they were approached by the Toronto Zoo to become a new home for a 2 and a half year old polar bear in May of 2012, he would be more energetic than their past, older residents. After all, polar bears are known for their hilarious antics. Things like putting construction cones on their heads and walking into objects – or crushing barrels – or trying to sink everything and anything possible in their pool.
You see goofy is just in a polar bear’s nature. In the wild, they push on the ice to break it around seal air holes, then stick their heads in to try and capture their prey, just as they’re coming up for air. So, sticking their heads into things, pushing down on things and plowing through snow is just normal behavior. And when you see them doing goofy things, the reality of what they normally use those skills for seems almost contradictory to how cute and cuddly they look.
But now that Ganuk has been at the Habitat in Cochrane, ON for more than a year, staff has realized something else.Young polar bears just have more energy to be goofy.
Staff’s first example was when Ganuk was given a Tiny Tott’s chair to play with. He could spend hours a day flipping it around, lying on his back and juggling it with his giant paws, trying to put his head through any opening (four legs can indeed make a great hat!), or even trying to balance on it. But then one day he decided to put the chair inside one of his barrels, and then crush the barrel. The chair is now forever trapped inside and neither staff nor Ganuk has been able to retrieve it – although Ganuk still tries.
The tiny tott’s chair, and more specifically – the loss of one of Ganuk’s favourite play things - gave one of our Bear Keeper’s another idea. If a chair gave him that much fun, what would an entire play centre do? After putting the entire set together in one of his enclosures, staff stood by, video camera in hand. We could only imagine what he was thinking as he encountered the alien puzzle-like toy. “If I push here, what will that do? What if I bite this long thing and drag it? Hmmm, I bet this will come apart if I just come up under it from here …”
After pushing, pulling, and dragging Ganuk finally decided the best course of action – as always – was to drag it to the pool. Wearing the entire playground like a necklace – he jumped in with his usual finesse – a big polar bear belly flop. With the help of the water, the play set came apart easily and Ganuk spent the rest of the afternoon gleefully playing with each part.
Ganuk is also a huge hit in the Habitat’s biggest claim to fame – the “Swim With the Bears” experience - during the summer months, of course. If we didn’t know any better, we would wonder if Ganuk is actually waiting for people to go into the wading pool on the other side of the reinforced glass – hoping to see them. There’s something unreal about an 800 lb polar bear popping out of the water just centimeters away from you – but capturing the photos from inside the viewing building of your friend or family member looking like they’re actually swimming with a polar bear is even better.
But remember, polar bears don’t swim all the time, and bears are rotated into different enclosures (some without access to the big pool) for enrichment and care purposes. When you’re planning your next trip to the Habitat, be sure to check the daily “Meet the Bear” times in the About section of our website at www.polarbearhabitat.ca or call 705 272-2327 for more information on where the bears will be that day. Chances are, you’ll see why “goofy” is now synonymous with Ganuk.