A grizzly bear found abandoned at a Cariboo landfill in 1999 continues to thrive at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove.
The zoo received Shadow in the winter of 1999 after she was rescued by conservation officers.
At the time, she was roughly a year old and had been left by her mother and siblings to fend for herself at a landfil, where she had been surviving on garbage for about two weeks.
Marketing and communications manager Jody Henderson says Shadow is the zoo’s only grizzly bear and has always been a real draw.
Alternatively she would have been euthanized because of her habituation to the landfill. Instead she was brought to the zoo for education purposes.
Henderson guesses Shadow was probably the runt of the litter, which was probably why she was abandoned.
Today she weighs around 270 pounds.
Henderson says her habitat consists of a 1.5-acre enclosure, with various berry bushes, lots of trees, a pond and several dens. It’s the size of football field and as natural as possible for a captive environment.
In addition to the berries, she also eats salmon once in a while, fruits and vegetables.
“She’s a bit of a diva,” Henderson says.
“She likes to get up later in the morning. She’s super intelligent and plays non-stop. She’s a real ham in front of the camera so there have been lots of videos and pictures taken of her over the years.”
Henderson says Shadow will pick things up and balance them on her head or nose, or throw things up in the air.
“I’ve seen her several times doing somersaults down the hill. She has a super big personality. She’s not keen on construction around her and any kind of machinery agitates her.”
Every time zoo staff does work around her Shadow becomes frustrated.
“Several years ago we went into her enclosure to clean it out; we do that every so often to cut some trees and move things around. She was in her holding pen while we were doing this and immediately when we were finished and she was back on her own, I remember her putting everything back to where it was before. She has a place for everything. She’s very fun that way and very particular.”
Henderson describes Shadow’s personality as big and says it’s apparent she knows her keepers and employees at the zoo.
“She very much reacts to our calling or being around her.”
To observe Shadow, staff and the public stand on an observation deck above her enclosure.
“This past week we opened up another area we revamped near her enclosure in the North American section. There used to be a bus that would go through a series of gates in that section and she was in the front, but we’ve eliminated the buses because we want it to be better for the animals and the environment.”
Now there’s more of a walk-through area where observers can access the view of half of Shadow’s enclosure, as opposed to only a quarter, which was what the access was before the changes.
“She is getting lots of enrichment now from the one long side where people can walk along. The kids are pretty excited to see her from there when she’s on that side and she’s been enjoying all the attention.”
Shadow is quiet but very busy.
It’s not cold enough in the Lower Mainland for more than what Henderson calls semi-hibernation, when Shadow becomes less active and eats less during a period of time.
“She dug a pretty serious den last year. She had one already, but she dug another one and spent hours working on it.”
In the wild, grizzly bears live around 25 years, with the longest recorded wild grizzly living 34 years. In captivity, the longest recorded grizzly lived to 47 years of age.
At the rate Shadow is going it’s anticipated she’ll live to 25 to 35 years of age in her captive environment.
“She was brought here to live out her life. She has great people taking care of her, a wonderful vet, and all that good stuff. She has good meals and doesn’t have to do much.”
Henderson notes over the years the zoo has taken in a number of animals.
“Conservation organizations and offices will call us when they’ve found an animal to see if a zoo can take them and save them,” she says.
The North American section also features black bears, coyotes, cougars, bison, Roosevelt Elk, reindeer, and three injured bald eagles.