Zoo grins as circus bears prove a hit

IT took months of fundraising to rescue them from a life of misery in a holding pen in Belgium.

Now, just weeks after arriving at their new home at the Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian, a trio of mistreated circus bears are already paying their way after helping boost visitor numbers by almost 50 per cent.

About 13,000 people visited the West Calder zoo during April, up from around 9000 in April last year. The European brown bears were unveiled to the Lothians public for the first time at the end of March, to the delight of zoo owners Brian Curran and his wife Shirley. Since then, visitor numbers have rocketed compared with the same period last year, particularly over the Easter break.

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Head of marketing and visitor services Lesley Coupar said: “The visitor numbers were wonderful at Easter, every day the car park was chock-a-block. The main focus of their visit was coming to see the bears.”

The zoo launched an £80,000 fundraising appeal last August to build a new home for Suzy, Carmen and Peggy at the zoo, and to pay for the cost of transporting them The appeal raised almost £61,000, leaving them to foot the rest of the bill themselves.

Although the bears are settling in well, Peggy has still to be reintroduced to Suzy and Carmen and is being kept in a separate part of the enclosure.

International bear behaviour expert Else Poulsen will visit the zoo next month to carry out a “workshop” with the bears, which will ultimately help to reintroduce them to each other.

Mrs Coupar said: “We feel this is the time that the bears can be reintroduced altogether – it will be the first time they have been physically together for over a year.

“Else has been sponsored to visit us by another bear organisation down south – Hauser Bears – for a few days, which is really exciting. It’s wonderful for us having her expertise on tap. She will sit with the bears and gain their trust, and get to know them and study them.

“There’s been a bit of growling through the fence but it’s not as bad as it was. Carmen and Peggy are both looking to be the alpha female. We want to take advice [from Else], we don’t want to let them out together and see scuffles.”