Brown Bears Awake and Gearing Up for Alaska Salmon Feast

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Could you eat 27 pounds of Alaska salmon in a day? Izzy the brown bear can, and he does so eagerly! Brown bears in the wild take a deep-sleep nap in the winter called hibernation, as do black bears. At the Alaska Zoo, their natural tendencies to sleep the snowy season away are understood and respected. To prepare for their winter’s rest, bears change what and how much they eat.

In August and September, Izzy the brown bear eats 34 pounds of food per day! This diet is made up of 27 pounds of Alaska salmon, most of which is donated to the Alaska Zoo from the community, 3-4 pounds of fresh vegetables and 2-3 pounds of crunchy, vitamin-rich canine kibble.

Contrary to what you might think, Izzy isn’t all that hungry when he wakes up in the spring. The first week of his awakening, he only eats a small amount of food each day – about 2.5 pounds made up of vegetables and a small amount of kibble for vitamins. Then, bears like Izzy work their way up to feasting on Alaska salmon. The zookeepers that care for Izzy, Jake and Oreo – the zoo’s adult brown bear trio – carefully monitor how much each bear eats and increase their food based on their behavior. Each meal is weighed and the amount is recorded before it’s served, with any leftover food being weighed again and recorded.

If an animal is not eating all of their meal, it might be due to the time of year. For instance, in the fall, moose refuse almost all food because they are going into rut and their sole purpose is to find a mate. These are all things that zookeepers monitor and keep track of on a daily basis and as seasons change.

While seasonal behavior changes do occur, an animal refusing food is also one of the first signs of not feeling well. This is why it is so important that our animals eat only their prepared food. At the Alaska Zoo, we ask visitors to please leave the feeding to us and not offer the animals trailside snacks. It might spoil his or her dinner and lead a zookeeper to believe the animal may be sick, only to find out that it had too much popcorn!

Other fun ideas for our bear-loving zoo supporters: