Posted on: 14 September, 2023
...you might spot bears having a bath, wolves moving as a pack, a lynx climbing a tree, or a wolverine mum grooming her kits!
Experience the wonders of Bear Wood during your next visit to Bristol Zoo Project. Wind your way along the treetop walkways and discover the bird's nest play area, 180-degree panoramic bear and wolf viewing den and lots of interactive exhibits.
Bear Wood is set in 7.5 acres of ancient British woodland, and is home to four species once found in the wild in the UK – European brown bears, wolverines, lynxes and wolves.
All four species were driven to extinction in the UK by habitat loss and hunting. The species are still common across areas of Europe, but some populations are threatened, and their numbers declining.
The environment of Bear Wood is exactly what the wild ancestors of our bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines would have lived in. We minimise interference in the woodland, letting the vegetation grow and giving the animals plenty of places to explore, climb and hide. Because of this, you won’t always see the animals at first glance. Make use of our volunteers on the walkway, who are there to help you find the animals.
We recommend spending around 45 minutes exploring Bear Wood, giving you enough time to search for the animals — don’t expect to spot them all straight away!
If you’re patient, you might be lucky enough to see the animals engaging in a range of natural behaviours.
You might see the bears frolicking in their pond, snoozing on logs, or even climbing trees!
Over winter, bears go into torpor, which is a sleep similar to hibernation, but not as deep. The keepers give them more food over autumn to increase their weight, triggering their torpor.
This means if you visit during the winter months, you’re very unlikely to see the bears out and about. We have a bear cam set up during the bears’ torpor, which you can watch from the Bear Wood walkway.
Last year the bears were seen making nests and snoozing together on the camera. They go into torpor around the end of October or start of November, so visit us before then to catch them this year!
Search for the wolves as they move through the woods in a group, looking out for one another. In the wild, wolf packs usually have a hierarchy, with only one breeding pair in a group, and other members of the pack helping raise that pairs' young. Our wolves are all brothers, so there’s no dominant pair. Curator of Mammals, Will, says he thinks of our wolves as a family helping each other out – there isn’t a hierarchy there.
Look up! Lynxes are amazingly agile and can climb to the top of trees, where they’ll lounge in the branches. They also rest on their specially-built treetop platform, level with you on the walkway. You’ll also see them crouching and prowling among the brambles on the forest floor — ask our volunteers to help you spot them!
Bounding along the ground, our family of wolverines explore and play together. In March this year, mum Alice gave birth to three wolverine kits. At first, young wolverines have white fur, which turns brown as they age. This year’s kits are now fully brown and almost as big as their adult parents.
Although it looks as if all the animals of Bear Wood are together, the 7.5-acre habitat is split into sections, giving each species space. Sectioning the area also allows keepers to maintain the habitat and get close to the animals for health checks and feeding.
The bears and wolves share the biggest portion of Bear Wood, living alongside each other as they would have done before they went extinct in the UK. The interactions between the two species provide natural enrichment, mimicking how they’d live in the wild. The animals also interact with the native British wildlife that enjoys Bear Wood.
You can spot butterflies basking on the warm wood walkway and birds including jays and treecreepers in the trees.
We monitor the native British wildlife at the zoo to better understand how to manage our 136-acre site to protect wildlife, as well as creating enriching homes for our zoo animals.
Since Bear Wood was created, and the animals introduced to the ancient woodland in 2019, the number of species in the woods has increased. Bear Wood now has the highest diversity of different species of birds, bats, small mammals and terrestrial invertebrates (insects and other minibeasts found on land) of any area of the zoo.
Our ecologists think this might be related to the presence of the animals of Bear Wood, restoring the ancient ecosystem with its missing parts: the bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines.
Ancient woodland now makes up just 2.5% of UK land cover, so Bear Wood is a precious refuge for threatened British wildlife.
We designed Bear Wood to help inspire visitors to discover more about our UK woodland habitats and wildlife, and help value and protect them.
Don’t miss the Bear Wood talk, where you’ll jump back in time to learn about the animals of Bear Wood and see skulls, paw prints and more — daily at 11.15am and 3.15pm.
Ask our friendly volunteers to help you spot the animals!
Make use of the interactive signage along the walkway, to learn about ancient British woodlands and the amazing animals of Bear Wood!
Don’t miss the panoramic forest floor viewing den, where you can get nose-to-nose with the bears and wolves.
Be patient! Allow enough time to look for the animals in their enriching natural habitat, don’t expect to see them all straight away.
Book your tickets to Bristol Zoo Project now — book the day before your visit or earlier for 10% off.
Bristol Zoo Project is part of Bristol Zoological Society, a conservation and education charity.