Written by Katie Buckley-Jones
Pardon our dust! You may have noticed some construction going on around the bear exhibits lately. We are excited to be renovating an old, unused space for our black bears! The Houston Zoo is home to two four-year-old female American black bears, Belle and Willow. Belle and Willow came to us back in 2013 from California. They were being fed by a restaurant and appeared to be orphaned. US Fish and Wildlife rescued them and reached out to our facility to see if we could offer them a home. Belle is often observed playing in the pool and rough housing with her sister. She is the larger of the two and tends to be a bit lazier. Willow is the mastermind behind the brawn of her sister. She is smaller and tends to be an instigator. You can often see her attempting to work through puzzle feeders or running away from her sister after waking her up.
As our bear girls get older, they are in need of more space to play and roam! The space used in the renovation has not been used for many years and was in much need of repair. We used this opportunity to take a close look at what bears need as a species and apply it to this new renovation. The Zoo is excited to offer them more room and an enriched environment. This new renovated area comes complete with built in foraging options, a cedar fort, and places to hide, dig, and climb.
We began this project by creating a tunnel between the current bear habitat and the renovated space. This will allow the girls to have the option of being in either area, so when you come visit be sure to check both places for the bears! The keepers will have the opportunity to enrich the bears further by transferring them from one side or the other or giving them access to everything. There will also be an additional bedroom area behind the scenes for the girls to sleep in.
We are thrilled to see these girls romp and play in their bigger and better habitat. Stay tuned for more updates!