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The Akron Zoo

Two bears at the Akron Zoo

By Elena Bell

Get Nose-to-Nose with Jackson and Cheyenne

Flowers; rain showers; birds chirping; bugs and leaves on trees. Those are some things that come to mind for many people when they think of spring. For us here at the Akron Zoo, a tell-tale sign of spring is grizzly bears in the water.

While the grizzly bears, Jackson and Cheyenne, do not hibernate over winter, they do slow down and sleep a lot. As the weather begins to get warmer, we begin to see energetic bears running through their habitat, wrestling with each other and playing in their pool.

Jackson and Cheyenne were born in Wyoming in 2011. Their mother began to wander into a nearby town to find food. For her safety and the safety of the people living in town, she was relocated by officials. Unfortunately, she returned to town twice more. She was then considered a “nuisance bear” and US Fish & Wildlife had to euthanize her.

After her death, it was discovered that she had two cubs who were too young to survive on their own. US Fish & Wildlife took the cubs in, but did not have space to keep them long term. A call went out to accredited zoos to see if any were able to take in the cubs.

Bears at the Akron Zoo

When the call went out, we were already planning a new habitat to feature grizzly bears here at the Akron Zoo. Jackson and Cheyenne came to live in Akron in the Mike & Mary Stark Grizzly Ridge.

Jackson and Cheyenne are part of a training program here at the Akron Zoo where they have the opportunity to participate in their own healthcare. The bears have learned to stand on their hind legs to present their stomachs for inspection and to show their feet and claws to keepers. Recently, they have even learned to present their shoulder for voluntary vaccine administration.

Keepers use positive reinforcement during training sessions with the bears. When the bears respond to the specific hand signal and verbal cue correctly, they receive a special treat – usually the fruit from their daily diet. When working new or more complex behaviors, they may receive an extra special reward like jelly or applesauce. If Jackson and Cheyenne are not interested in participating in a training session, the keepers simply come back later to see if they are interested. The bears are never forced to participate.

Children observing a bear at the Akron Zoo

Training these behaviors is very important to the health and well-being of the grizzly bears. Presenting different body parts (like their stomach and paws) allows keepers to see if they are injured in any way. Keepers and veterinary staff can also keep an eye on minor wounds or injuries (like a scrape or broken nail) without the need for anesthesia. Once Jackson broke one of his nails off after a day of playing with Cheyenne and keepers were able to watch his foot for signs of infection. Thankfully, his nail grew back and Jackson remained healthy, and no anesthesia was needed.

In the wild, grizzly bears become solitary after reaching maturity, but because Jackson and Cheyenne have such a close bond, they choose to remain together. These two act just as siblings should – picking on each other, playing together and even stealing each other’s treats. The two bears have strong personalities, making them popular with guests. Jackson loves playing with his feet and sticks, whereas Cheyenne is very smart and enjoys solving puzzles that her keepers create for her. Both bears love to interact with guests through the glass, whether it’s playing tag or follow the leader.

So this spring and summer, enjoy the nice weather with Jackson and Cheyenne. It’s not often that you can get nose-to-nose with a 500-pound grizzly bear like you can here at the Akron Zoo.

The Akron Zoo

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