Bear Sanctuary Arbesbach
Brown BearsMonika Fiby (author)
Annette Gunn (editor for ZooLex)
, 3925 Arbesbach
The Bear Sanctuary is a non-profit organization. In 1997, three bear enclosures and a central underground management unit were built on a portion of the Kolm family property that was leased for this purpose. Visitors could book a scheduled guided tour with the keepers. The expansion project in 2007 called for an additional bear exhibit and a self-guided tour for visitors. The Kolm family at that time had been running a restaurant, a kiosk and a multi-purpose function hall and was interested in synergies with a new visitor attraction at the sanctuary. They provided an additional part of their property for the expansion of the Bear Sanctuary.
Since the reopening in May 2009, the Bear Sanctuary has an additional bear exhibit with a visitor circuit, playgrounds, educational elements and a Bear Forest House. The building added storage and office space to the existing bear management unit, as well as a shop, an exhibition and toilets for visitors.
The perimeter of the bear sanctuary is fenced by a two meter high woven wire netting. The additional bear exhibit was built similar to the existing ones. The enclosure fences are 2.5 meters high with an overhang of a meter. They are chain-link fixed to a concrete base. The concrete base of the new exhibit is underground to be invisible. The fences have several electric strands along the inside. One meter inside the chain-link fence is another fence with two strands of electric wire. This fence prevents bears from approaching the main fence or digging underneath. Every enclosure has a gate for large vehicle access, a pond and a cave.
The Bear Sanctuary has drawn a larger audience after completion of the extension project. The Kolm family provides catering and toilets during opening hours. The sanctuary is closed from November to March when the bears hibernate.
Space allocation in square meters:
EUR 2,000,000 including 5-10 % for design.The Bear Sanctuary received funding from Land Niederösterreich (ecoplus and Landschaftsfonds) as a tourism project. The municipality of Arbesbach additionally provided some financial support from building the parking lot, since it is used by cross-country skiers in winter. The total cost was for the parking lot, the visitor circuit with playgrounds and exhibits, an additional bear exhibit, upgrade of the existing bear exhibits and for a building with storage, service space, shop, exhibitions and toilets.
Beginning: May 2008
All vegetation is native and adapted to the harsh climate. The young shrubs were bought at a local nursery so that they were adapted to the weather conditions. Tree protection is unnecessary due to the mature age of the bears who do not climb on trees any more.
The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.
Each enclosure has a concrete-lined pond, which is deep (1.5 meters minimum) and large enough for the bears to swim. An additional small pond was built in one exhibit for an individual bear that was too timid to use the large pond.
The bears like to dig holes in the ground. However, the granite ground on the site makes the digging of real caves impossible. Each exhibit therefore has an artificial cave (3 meters long and 1.3 meters high) that the bears may use as an alternative to their indoor dens.
One separation enclosure is hidden from public view. Here the bears can retreat after introduction, medical treatment or from other stress situations.
The bears are regularly rotated between the enclosures to give them a change in environment and to allow them foraging in different areas. Food and enrichment devices are placed in each enclosure on a daily basis for mental and physical stimulation. A manual about enrichment methods at the Bear Sanctuary was compiled for visitor information and can be downloaded from ZooLex Research.
Every enclosure has a door for keeper access, additionally to a large gate for vehicle access.
Sliding doors between bear enclosures are either horizontal and electrical, or vertical and mechanical. In a cage (with two sliding doors) between two exhibits the bears are trained for medical check-ups and procedures. The separation enclosure and two fenced-off sections can be used to separate bears outdoors to do maintenance in the enclosures and bring in enrichment devices.
There is a possibility to accommodate keepers overnight.
There is a box at the entrance where hunters can discreetly dispose of road-kill for the bears, even when the Bear Sanctuary is closed.
The exhibitions indoors and outdoors offer educational, interactive elements and activities.
A playground at the entrance is in view from the restaurant and picnic place. Apart from a sand box, a nest swing and a cave similar to the bears' ones, balancing courses challenge not to touch the ground on three levels of ability. Small children can use a trail of stepping stones and logs along the main path. At an intermediate level, older children can climb a trail across logs and bridges. The dexterous can balance and brachiate on another trail with stilts and rope structures. A rope garden in the forest offers another physical challenge suitable for most ages.
In the indoor exhibition, visitors can learn about the natural history of bears through many forms of interactive elements. A turn puzzle shows the differentiation between similar bear species. A magnetic game about encountering a bear in the wild describes the human-bear relationship. Enrichment examples and food buckets educate about bear management at the Sanctuary. There is a cube puzzle of bears in Arbesbach during the seasons, a smell station educating about bears sense of smell and preferences, a wall puzzle with day and night active forest animals and a scale model of the Sanctuary with information about how the bears are shifted between areas. Further signage describes the Four Paw's work for saving dancing and circus bears. Money for these projects is collected in a wooden wishing well.
In the multimedia space short films about the work of Four Paws and the creation of this and other Four Paw Bear Sanctuaries are permanently shown. The area also serves as a classroom. Activities for school groups include creating enrichment devices and preparing a bear nest for winter.
Outdoor activities are related to bears, whether it is strength or dexterity. The playground and the rope garden challenge visitors to complete activities without touching the ground. A cave in between is a smaller look-alike of the juxtaposed bear cave in the exhibit.
A cage simulation is built underneath the viewing platform. Visitors may enter the "cage" through openings between elastic simulated bars and view the bears outside in the enclosure. The space illustrates the typical cage size that bears were kept in before they arrived at the Bear Sanctuary. Along the path visitors can find a transport box and a description of how a bear was moved to the Bear Sanctuary.
A sandpit with sandals for making animal tracks is located along the forest path. Visitors may put on the sandals and make bear, lynx and wolf tracks. Thereby they experience how plantigrades (bears) walk differently from digitigrades (lynxes and wolves).
One level of interpretation focuses on the relationship between man and bear. An artificial canyon provides an opportunity for visitors to create cave paintings with chalk on natural rock.
In the sanctuary, keepers are careful to ensure that visitors do not feed or disturb the bears. Live-size figures of the real keepers explain the reasons in flashy speech bubbles additionally to smaller prohibition signs.
Indoor facilities are open and available to the bears at all times. However, they prefer the artificial caves outdoors in the exhibits.
Some bear individuals are more compatible than others. A brother and sister pair was introduced with two brothers. These four bears use two exhibits together.
While water of the old ponds must be pumped to empty them, the new ponds have drainage outlets. The larger of the new ponds additionally has a pump circulating the water across a waterfall.
The keepers support the natural seasonal feeding behaviour of the bears by providing seasonally varying quantities and qualities of food.
As breeding in Bear Sanctuaries is undesirable, the male bears are neutered.
A bathtub was placed in an enclosure for an individual female Eurasian brown bear that was too timid to use the main pool in her enclosure. The bathtub was a test to see whether the bear would use water. Due to the positive outcome, a small pool was built specifically for her.
Interactive elements were tested during development and after installation for eventual refinishing. Tracking and timing of visitors revealed the need of some additional signs.
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