The coming of spring marks changes in the behavior of animals on Grandfather Mountain. For bears, they begin to move around and emerge from a long winter’s rest. In winter, of course, they need to stay warm. But as temperatures rise, a challenge for them is to stay cool. Bears don’t have sweat glands, and with an abundance of insulating fur, getting into cool water is one of the main ways they beat the heat.
Fortunately for the resident bears at Grandfather Mountain, a brand-new pond awaits them as warmer weather arrives.
Thanks to a generous grant from the High Country Charitable Foundation, the nonprofit nature park was able to renovate its bear pond this past fall for use among Grandfather’s resident black bears in one of its off-display habitats. Given their heavy black coats, even in the High Country where summer temperatures are more moderate, being able to cool off on hot days is vital to the health of the mountain’s resident bears.
“The pond is an important stimulus both mentally and physically for the bears,” animal habitats curator Christie Tipton said. “The bears can now easily walk in the water when they’re hot, and it’s a great enrichment because we can throw toys in the water for them to enjoy and even treats for them to ‘bob for apples’ with, so to speak.”
Originally constructed in the 1970s, years of extreme weather on the mountain had taken their toll on the pond, and it would no longer hold water. Last fall, workers with Alex Johnson Construction tore out the old pond and poured fresh concrete. The pond floor is also sloped, allowing the bears to easily wade in and out without straining themselves physically.
These new accommodations are better suited for the mountain’s population of bears, most of whom are between the ages of 20 and 25 and are considered geriatric with arthritic ailments. In the wild, bears tend to live to be up to 20 years old, but in captivity, bears can live up to 30 years old, with some even surpassing this mark.
“We made the pond a depth where the bears can go down and easily get submerged, but they don’t have to actually swim,” Tipton said. “It’s the perfect depth for them to sit and cool off in the water.”
In addition to providing a stimulating environment for the older bears, the renovations to the bear pond also fulfill the park’s goal of providing authentic natural environments to its resident animals.
“In the wild, bears have access to bodies of water, whether it’s creeks, rivers or streams,” Tipton said. “The pond mimics the opportunities that wild bears have to get into the water when it is hot outside. They also like splash around and play.”
While the pond has yet to be utilized, it is operational, and Tipton expects the habitat staff to begin filling the pond this April.
To learn more about the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation’s mission of inspiring the conservation of natural world, visit grandfather.com/support.
The nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, call (800) 468-7325, or click here to plan a trip.