Vol 8, Issue 4, November 2021

'Bearly' Changing with the Seasons: Bears of Five Species Show Few Behavioral Changes Across Seasons and at Varying Visitor Densities


Bernstein-Kurtycz, L. M., Koester, D. C., Snyder, R. J., Vonk, J., Willis, M. A., & Lukas, K. E. (2021). ‘Bearly’ changing with the seasons: Bears of five species show few behavioral changes across seasons and at varying visitor densities. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 8(4), 538-557. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.



In natural environments, bear behavior follows seasonal patterns but the zoo environment differs from the natural environment in several ways, including the presence of zoo visitors. Although typically difficult to disentangle, we were able to tease apart the effects of seasonal changes and visitor density on the visibility and behavior of 10 bears representing five species housed at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo due to the disruption caused by COVID-19. We conducted a longitudinal bear behavior monitoring project from June, 2017-November, 2020. Bears were more visible in the spring and in the presence of visitors, locomoted more and were less inactive when large crowds were present, foraged and locomoted more when it was earlier in the day, and locomoted more at higher temperatures. There were limited differences in bear visibility to observers between 2020 (when the zoo was temporarily closed to visitors) and the previous three years. There were no differences in rates of stereotypy or social behavior across seasons, crowds, or daily attendance categories. Based on these limited differences, neither season nor visitor density seemed to have an apparent effect on bear behavior or welfare.


Visitor effect, Daily attendance, Crowd size, Bear behavior, COVID-19, Season