By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – He’s big, burly and energetic right now, but once the snow flies, this month’s Animal of the Month will sleep – a lot.
Aldo, a 6-year-old black bear at the NEW Zoo, is close to what many people would call hibernation, but that’s not entirely true.
“Bears are not true hibernators,” said Trish Schuchart, zookeeper. “They move a little bit, their body temperature and heart rate goes down, but on a nice day, he could go out and find some food.”
Aldo, named after famous environmentalist Aldo Leopold, gets fed well at the NEW Zoo. His diet consists of fruit, vegetables, berries, nuts, fish, dog and monkey chow, and right now meat to pack on the calories.
“They build up a ton of calories in the fall so they have a lot of reserves in the winter,” Schuchart said.
Aldo is actually quite energetic as long as it’s not cold and snowy.
“He’s entertaining, he’s a ham,” Schuchart said. “Bears typically in zoos need a lot of enrichment and we do enrich him daily, but bears typically in zoos need a lot of toys, but he’s not hard to please.”
Visitors to the NEW Zoo might find branches in the shrubs by Aldo’s habitat. That would be because he likes to play with them and toss them in the air. Sometimes they fly outside of the exhibit.
“He’s a very good exhibit bear,” Schuchart said. “He’s active and enjoys his surroundings, he likes to play in his pond a lot in the summer, splashes water all over himself and he will curl up and roll and do somersaults down his hill and play with his sticks.”
In the wild, black bears might have a range of 2- to 10-square miles in which they forage for food.
As part of his daily enrichment, Schuchart puts food all around his habitat, sometimes in boxes for Aldo to get into.
He also has balls to play with.
This is the only life Aldo has known because he is not fit to be released into the wild.
Due to serious head wounds when he was a cub, he was abandoned by his mother.
He came to the NEW Zoo as a 6-month old bear from the forest of Oregon.
Now, Aldo may seem like a fun animal to be around, but he is a bear that weighs between 250-300 pounds. Standing on his feet with his arms raised, he would tower over 6 feet tall.
Because of that, Schuchart never enters his habitat with him.
The black bear population in Wisconsin has exploded over the last 30 years, going up from around 9,000 to nearly 28,000.
In the past, black bears could be found only in the northern third of the state, but lately have been coming down into the middle third, Schuchart said.
This summer a black bear was spotted in Suamico.
Because of the larger population of bears, and the size of their range in the wild, more are coming south in search of food.
Black bears are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they don’t mind what they eat, as long as it’s close by.
Those who see a bear up close in the wild, or in their backyard, are encouraged to make noise, not run away and not feed them.
“They’re just looking for food,” Schuchart said. “They’re not aggressive and they typically try to avoid people.”
When bears do get aggressive, Schuchart said it’s usually a case where mamma bear is protecting her cub.
“Oftentimes people will jump in if they see a cub that’s abandoned but the mom can leave her babies for up to 15 hours a day,” Schuchart said. “So if people see a cub do not approach it.”