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Play like a grizzly cub

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Play like a grizzly cub
September 28, 2018

When you’re nine months old – and a grizzly bear – the world is a pretty exciting place.

It was 10am on his first day out in public, and Hawthorne the grizzly cub was having a wonderful adventure – every ten seconds. First he sniffed around his habitat a little, checking out what was new this morning. He nosed logs, flipped over a small branch, then picked it up and shook it. Then he galloped a complete lap of the space, backside jiggling, and ran right up his favorite perch – a log cantilevered over the small pool.

“He can be up there for hours, just playing with the moss,” says keeper Angela Gibson with a smile. “Up there he’s king.”

brown grizzly on log
Hawthorne the grizzly cub on his favorite log.

Playing in Nature

The log is a 100-year-old fallen cedar that still shows the charcoal marks of a long-ago fire, before Northwest Trek became a wildlife park. Horticulturalist Jake Pool brought it in for the cubs to create a vantage point, anchoring it with a 1,000-pound concrete counterweight for when they grow into full-size bears.

“It’s been cool to watch them enjoy it so much,” says Pool, who often works with Gibson to figure out how to reuse plants and trees as enrichment for animals.

As with any young animal, Hawthorne’s play is vital to learning how to be an adult: how to forage for food, run, climb and swim. He tests the edge of the log with one paw, trips over a foot and discover that lettuce tastes a whole lot better than vine maple leaves.

“He’s just a goofball,” says Gibson. “He plays by himself all the time – he can play with anything.”

Two hours later, he’s ready for a nap.

“You can just see the energy change,” Gibson says. “He’ll be running all around, then suddenly sit down like – ‘Right. I’m done.’”

grizzly cub looking up at tree
Huckleberry the grizzly cub is already trying to climb trees.

Climb like a bear

After playing outside from 9:30-11:30am, Hawthorne goes back into his den for lunch and a nap. Then, at 1pm, it’s Huckleberry’s turn. While the chocolate-brown Hawthorne was orphaned young in Alaska and mostly cared for by humans at the Alaska Zoo before finding a home at Northwest Trek, the blond Huckleberry had a little more time with his mom in Montana before being orphaned. So while he’s also nine months old, he’s far more driven to do bear things – like finding food.

After a good ten minutes of galloping around, Huckleberry starts determinedly nosing around for food – in branches, under logs, around rocks. When he finds it, he looks for more.

He’ll even climb trees, getting several feet high before sliding down on his rump. (Cubs climb better than adult grizzlies, who get too heavy.)

“He has a big appetite and is growing,” says Gibson. “He’ll eat anything.”

Grizzly cub plays with rock in pool.
Hawthorne loves playing with this floating “rock,” put there as enrichment by his keepers.

Pool time

But Huckleberry also loves swimming. Romping about in the three-foot pool (Gibson’s gradually deepening it as they grow) he ducks his head, plays with his paws and swats at the waterfall, obviously having a blast. Gibson has put a floating enrichment “rock” in there, which Huckleberry flips, swats and chews, determined to conquer.

Lumbering out, he gives a good shake, water flying everywhere – then plunges back in.

“He’s like a little kid – jump into the pool, get out, jump in again,” Gibson laughs.

And up at the viewing area, a human kid also jumps up and down, pointing and exclaiming excitedly at the blond bear.

“Do you love him?” asks his mom as she takes a phone video of the swimming bear cub. “I know – I love him too!”

SEE THEM: Hawthorne and Huckleberry are on view every day from 9:30-11:30am and 1-3pm at Northwest Trek.

LEARN MORE: Visit our grizzly cub page.

-Rosemary Ponnekanti, Northwest Trek