A TRIO of brown bears who were rescued from a travelling circus will be able to hibernate for the first time ever in a new Scottish zoo enclosure.
European brown bears Suzy, Carmen and Peggy have had three dens specially created for them at Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian.
The bears arrived at their new enclosure from a Belgian holding pen seven months ago.
As part of a German travelling circus, they were kept in small cages and unable to hibernate properly for 20 years.
The animals have settled in to their new Scottish sanctuary well, and enjoy a waterfall feature as well as indoor and outdoor enclosures.
A Scots company has also donated two concrete culvert pipes to act as dens for the bears to hibernate through the winter. A third will be installed this week.
The 3.5 tonne, 1.8meter long pipes have been blocked off with rocks and soil and filled with straw, making them ideal winter homes for the bears.
Zoo owners Brian and Shirley Curran have been fundraising for the project months, and are still to meet the £80,000 needed for the animals’ upkeep and enclosure costs.
Mrs Curran, 50, said: “I don;t know if the bears will hibernate or not because they have never had the chance to do it as they have been kept in a circus trailer and made to work for most of their life.
“If they didn’t work during the winter, they would be in a circus lorry with straw.
“They have got the choice now to hibernate and we will let nature take its course.”
The bears were born in captivity and spent two decades in the travelling circus, where they lived in cages just 10 metres square.
The circus owner retired and took the three to Belgium, but after he was hospitalised long-term with an illness they were moved to a holding centre.
Five Sisters zoo finished building their new home earlier this year, but more funds are needed to pay for the bears’ upkeep. £76,120 has been raised so far.
Mrs Curran continued: “We are not far off the £80,000 but we still have the upkeep of the bears, it’s an ongoing cost.
“Our feeding costs have doubled since the bears came because they eat in a day as much as the whole zoo eats.”
The bears may start hibernating at the end of this month or next month, but will reappear for food and water as winter ends.
Brown bears usually spend half their lives underground hibernating.
Females lose 40% of their body weight while they give birth and nurse their cubs during hibernation.
Bears can stay in hibernation, in natural caves or dens they dig for themselves, for up to six months.
They may leave the den temporarily.
The CPM Group, a Wishaw-based company which supplies and manufactures concrete products, donated the pipes to the zoo for the dens.