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Talking overheard between two black bears at zoo

Two black bears, Sierra and Ursula, at Spring River Park & Zoo. (Ray Pawley Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

I would like to share with you a hypothetical conversation “overheard” between Ursula and Sierra, the two black bears at Spring River Park & Zoo. I begin with their imaginary dialogue by saying that I recorded their conversation through the use of “Super Duper Animal Language Translation Box,” which is imaginary. Such a device has not yet been invented; it does not yet exist in the real world.

Their conversation went like this:

Sierra: Hey, Ursula — wake up! I just finished with my isometrics.

Ursula: I am awake.

Sierra: No, your not. Your eyes are closed.

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Ursula: I’m squinting.

Sierra: Squinting? At what?

Ursula: See that cloud up there?

Sierra: OK, yes, so —

Ursula: Doesn’t that one look like a Mother Human pushing her Cub in a box with wheels?

Sierra: Yes — but get serious for a minute, will you?

Ursula: I’m always serious (grinning). What’s up?

Sierra: Well, I heard that our Zoo was the topic of discussion at a city/public meeting a couple of weeks ago to talk about a whole new renovation plan for the Zoo and Park. We, Ursula, you and I should be getting a brand new outdoor enclosure. Our neighbors, the Cougars too.

Ursula: Yeah, I heard about it. So what’s so new about that? It will just be a repeat of what we already have with maybe a new log, or some new rocks and that’s it. Nothing new. Everything will just be stuff off the shelf.

Sierra: OK, so that would be like just moving the furniture around. But I’m not talking about that plan. There’s another plan lurking out there.

Ursula: Another plan?

Sierra: Yeah. A Conceptual Plan by Ray Pawley. He has some totally new, cool ideas. No other Zoo has them.

Ursula: Oh, sure. And our Mother is a Woodchuck.

Sierra: No, no. Just listen up. For one thing, Pawley says that the city needs to offer something entirely new for the animals, and for the public as well, but also a plan that will not require more keepers. Moreover, it’s a plan that keeps expenses down. Of course, he not suggesting that anything be taken away that the public really likes.

Ursula: Sounds like hocus-pocus to me. So just how is he going to pull that off?

Sierra: Well, for one thing, the side-by-side moated enclosures will be designed to hold both the bears and the cougars. Then, by putting in two by-pass shifts, we and the Cougars can swap enclosures every two or three weeks. We would stay in one enclosure for a while and when it gets boring we would then swap enclosures, like “musical chairs” so that the Cougars will come here and we will go over there.

Ursula: Hmmmm. Interesting. Like we and the Cougars have two vacation homes and we can go back and forth?

Sierra: Yeah. You know, I have always wondered just what that Cougar area is like — it will be a whole new area to explore. The lay-out, the smells, view, everything will be different. And when we get tired of that, the Cougars and us switch back again.

Ursula: Cool. And, whenever its time to swap, do you think they will toss in a log of termites that we can tear up? I think I would love termites.

Sierra: You’ve never had a termite. How would you know?

Ursula: Well, I heard that Pawley guy talking to someone the other day and he said that when he was in Kenya and he and Johnny Leakey were waiting for the N’Daou River to recede so they could cross over, they spent an hour roasting termites that they skewered on big Acacia spines, over a charcoal briquet. A micro-miniature BBQ. He said they tasted like French fries! And, I really like French fries. So termites must be pretty tasty!

Sierra: OK, OK, I get it. But, there’s more.

Ursula: Like what else?

Sierra: Like heated pads and cooling pads to stretch out and lay on.

Ursula: Huh?

Sierra: We each get a pad that’s warm to lay on, in the winter, and in the summer the pad is cool. Like air conditioning only better — it will be outside so that we don’t have to live in a stuffy old room.

Ursula: I’m not so sure about this. I don’t want to have to stay warm or cool on a pad where I have to sleep right next to you! Gimme a break.

Sierra: No, no — the pads will be several yards apart. The heat and cooling coils will be in the cement and one of the pads will be next to a window where people can look at us close up.

Ursula: Well, that could be kind of fun except that kids with sticky fingers and runny noses will slobber up the view.

Sierra: OK, so the glass will need to be cleaned once or twice a day. No biggie. But, Ursula, we will have to work for it.

Ursula: What? Work? I knew there was a catch!

Sierra: There will be this big “off-on” button, see? Two for each pad. One for cooling and one for heating. We would just need to be sure that we lay on the button to keep the pad cool or warm. Once we get off the pad the cooling or heating stops. That’ll save a bundle for the city.

Ursula: Yeah. Great. I think I can handle that. In fact, I like it. I just need to be sure to lay on that button and I can stay warm or cool, whatever I wish.

Sierra: And, if you lived up in the Capitans you would be working a whole lot harder just to get a meal! Besides, there’s more.

Ursula: More? I don’t know if I can handle all this. What’s next?

Sierra: We get our own splash pad.

Ursula: You gotta be kidding. No animals have their own splash pad except for Human cubs.

Sierra: Yes, Ursula, we would. Near the middle of this yard of ours, there will be a pipe sunk down into the cement that points straight up. There will be a stream of water that shoots 15 feet in the air! Straight up. The water will then just run down the slope and into the moat.

Ursula: Wow. Really? I’d think I would like that! Even the Bears in the Capitans don’t have anything like that. But is that stream of water going to squirt up in the air all day? The city wouldn’t stand for that.

Sierra: Nope. The water will be on an automatic timer so that every half hour or so, kind of like “Old Faithful” the water shoots up for maybe 20 seconds and then shuts off.

Ursula: OK, but how much fun is that?? I’m supposed to spend my whole day waiting for a 20 second shower every half hour?

Sierra: Well, Pawley says there will be a system over-ride. If you or I push a button then the water will shoot up and stay running for maybe 3 to 5 minutes before it shuts off. The public will also have access to a button and as long as they hold it down, the water shoots up. They say it would be a great way for us bears and the Humans to interact.

Ursula: OK, I think I can handle the work, work, work. But — hey — all of a sudden I just don’t like this idea.

Sierra: Why? No other zoo, no sanctuary, no bears on Capitan have anything like it. It will be fun.

Ursula: Yeah, for you maybe. But, I know you. I’ll be sleeping on that warm pad over there and — whoosh! You will press that water button and hold your paw over it and deflect the spray so that I get drenched. Water all over me! And you’ll just be sitting there laughing.

Sierra: I can’t believe you said that. I’m crushed (smirk). You know I would never do anything like that to you. (snicker)

Ursula: No, probably not — but that’s only because you know that I know where you live. (Grinning)

Sierra: Just think, Ursula — we will have things that no other bears have. Not anywhere.

Ursula: Yeah, but all those bears over in Ruidoso will hear about all the fun we’re having and they’ll come running to Roswell to climb into this exhibit with us.

Sierra: I doubt it — that what keeps the people out of our home should also keep the other bears out. This would be all for us. Just us.

A couple of doves landed in the Bear enclosure, side-tracking the Bears’ attention and ending their conversation.


Ray Pawley, previously with Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Brookfield zoos and the Field Museum of Natural History, continues to consult for zoos and museums. He resides in Arabela, where his research on animal behavior and physiology is ongoing. He can be reached at raypawley@pvtnetworks.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.

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