A bear’s life. Different characters

A bear’s life. Different characters

1 October 2015

Ayon, the Polar bear cub saved by the Polar Bear Patrol, has been living in the Volokolamsk sanctuary of the Moscow zoo for over five years. Zoologist Tatiana Dyomina tells us how the Arctic predator got used to life in the Moscow Region, what he likes and how he gets on with his friend Milana.

How are Ayon and Milana getting along?  


– Milana took charge of Ayon, who was brought up amongst people, from the very beginning. She was born in a zoo but brought up by a female bear, and that’s why she had more bear-like habits.

Ayon was found when he was only about three months old. He had only started crawling out of the bear den. Milana taught him that people are dangerous and that he should keep away from them. She also chose food for him, taught him what food is better and where to sleep, and brought him toys.


The two bears are of the same age but have totally different life experience. Milana is aggressive towards people unlike Ayon. She has no attachment to anything, even to food. When we bring her food, she waits for us to leave and then starts eating.


Ayon lived among people from a very early age. He stayed with people the whole working day, but when the staff left (we observed him), he spent time with Milana. They clearly didn’t need anybody else.  They would sleep together, then fight and then play together. In the beginning, when they were separated, she even pushed toys through into his cage, or fish. She took care of him.


It took Ayon a long time to get used to life in the sanctuary. He used to turn to people for any small thing, like a human would do. For example, he couldn’t swim because he had spent a long time at a Moscow veterinary clinic where there was no swimming pool. We tried to help him: we rescued him from the swimming pool, threw logs to him, nets. It is dangerous when animals that originally can’t swim can’t get out of the water and start losing energy. So Milana eventually taught him all this.


Polar bears have a complex habitat, so it is hard for a polar bear cub to learn the necessary skills without a mummy, unlike for brown bears.


On the whole, the two bears have a companion-like relationship. They both arrived at our sanctuary when they were tiny. They still play together, but sometimes they quarrel, sometimes they argue over food just like in any relationship. It is only natural.


What do polar bears eat in your sanctuary? What do they prefer?


– Polar bears in captivity prefer a good variety of food. In order to add calories to their food, we give them beef and chicken fat, various vegetables, fruit, honey. We provide them with a balanced diet.


They eat five times a week: normally once every day plus we do no-food days or half-food days to make them feel more like in the wild. Hunting for prey isn’t always successful. Their daily consumption is 10kg of various types of food.


Interestingly, Milana is more of a vegetarian. She likes nuts, salads, fruit. Ayon would eat anything. But they both love sweet mixes of honey and dried fruit. Bizarrely, neither of them particularly likes fish. I would rank it last in their food preferences.


When members of the WWF Polar Bear Patrol came to see Ayon in winter, they brought a jar of eared seal fat. Milana didn’t seem to care; she sniffed it and went away to play. Ayon abandoned his food, toys and didn’t stop until he emptied the jar to the last drop. I think it was his genetic memory. It reminded him of something his mum used to feed him. Bears adore eared seal and first of all eat all the fat. Milana was born and brought up in a zoo, which is why she didn’t care about the fat.


When can one expect cubs from this couple?


– Our Ayon has reached the age of 5.5 years, when he is physiologically mature enough to breed. Last year, they mated but unfortunately without any result. We hope in the next few years because everything is fine with their sexual instincts.


Ayon has been living in the sanctuary for over five years. He knows how to look after himself. He is a real male. When the hunting season arrived, he didn’t need any support, he knew what to do. It is very important that this bear came to us from the wild and has valuable genetic qualities.


At the moment, we have separated the bears to avoid pregnancy. Once the hunting season is over, we will reunite them, probably in October.