When we think of bears we often think of characters such as Winnie the Pooh, who will do anything for some of his favourite honey.
While this sounds like a made up thing, to make him more loveable, there are bears that absolutely love honey – including Syrian Brown Bears.
We got to see this for ourselves as Hamerton Zoo keeper Ben McRobie, 27, gave us a behind the scenes tour of the new Syrian Brown Bear enclosure which is due to open to the public next week.
The three siblings, two brothers and a sister, came from a zoo in Switzerland, and are the only ones of their species in the UK.
Laika, Jaiko and Newton’s arrival has been a long time coming, with the thought of bringing in the bears first discussed around three years ago.
The original hope was to have them ready for the public to see in early June, however due to the coronavirus pandemic building work on their enclosure and the public viewing areas ground to a halt while the country went into lockdown.
But now, the bears are settled in, having arrived earlier in the year to avoid any potential Brexit-related issues, and have a 5,000 metres squared enclosure to run and play in, complete with trees which were planted especially, and a pond for a spot of swimming.
Explaining their brand new enclosure, Ben said: “We’ve got a great big grassy paddock where they can go and explore, there is a great big pond in there as well so they can go for a big old swim if they like.
“There’s trees and things for them to climb on, big hills, there’s lots of things for them to do really out there. We’ve also got the climbing frame and things that we’ve built [in the holding enclosure] for them.”
Going on to explain their natural habitat, Ben said: “In the wild, they’re called Syrian Brown Bears but they’re actually not found in Syria any more, they are extinct in that part of the world.
“They’re mostly found in places like Turkey, and Iran and Iraq at the moment and they are found more in the mountainous regions there and some of the forests as well.
“So what we’ve got at the moment in our paddock is probably a bit more grassy than they would find out in the wild, but we planted a load of trees in there and hopefully they’re going to grow up and turn into a bit more of a forest for them.”
Syrian Brown Bears are the smallest of the 12 subspecies of brown bears, weighing on average around 250kg, compared to the largest species the Kodiak Bear which weigh in at around 600kg.
And it’s not just in terms of size that the Syrian Brown Bears stand out.
Ben explained: “They’ve got all sorts of different things that make them a bit more recognisable than maybe some of the other bears, they’ve got the white claws and they’re also much paler in colour, almost like a grey or straw sort of colour.
“They’re quite recognisable and quite highly endangered as well unlike most of the other brown bears, so as a species brown bears are seen as of least concern by the IUCN… because they’re spread all over but Syrian Brown Bears specifically are seen as more endangered because they’re extinct in Syria already.
“They’re found in much smaller populations in Iraq, Iran and Turkey and they’re hopefully going to be gradually spreading further back towards Syria.
“We’re working here with various different other zoos across Europe to try and build a nice healthy captive population of them.
“Right now we’ve just got siblings, so it’s not a breeding situation at the moment, but in the future as these guys get a bit older and mature a bit hopefully we’ll be able to swap around with some other zoos and get a nice breeding group of bears going.”
The hope is that the three youngsters grow up at Hamerton before being paired with new animals, which are set to be imported from rescue centres in Armenia.
If you’re interested in brown bears, and particularly the Syrian Brown Bears, Hamerton Zoo is in fact the only zoo in the UK with these bears.
Hamerton worked closely with the zoo in Switzerland from which the siblings came for a couple of years before they arrived so they could get the enclosure sorted.
In fact, Ben said: “We sent keepers out to Switzerland to go and work with the [bears] out there, so work with the parents of our trio here and learn as much as we could about them before we brought them in.”
Hamerton keepers are hoping the bears will make their debut on Wednesday (July 29), and lucky viewers may even be able to catch them going for a dip in their own private pool on a warm day.
To ensure visitor numbers can be maintained and regulated, tickets for Hamerton Zoo must still be bought in advance which you can do here.