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Zoo Pal: Black Bear!

MONROE, La. (KNOE) – Meet Oscar! He is a North American black bear at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo.

“He’s actually almost completely blind and our bear just feels and smells everything, so that’s really cool when you think about it,” says carnivore zoo keeper Maria Foster. “These bears are super smart by nature and grow to about 5 to 6 feet long and weigh about 200 to 600 pounds, and that sounds really big, but that’s actually the smallest bear in North America.”

“Oscar is very food-motivated and his favorite foods are grapes and walnuts,” says Lisa Taylor, the zoo’s curator general. “Bears in the wild, typically in the fall – especially Louisiana black bears – like to eat lots of nuts and berries in the fall to build up their fat levels to survive the winter.”

Foster says many carnivores at the zoo love multiple senses, so they’ll use perfumes and vanilla as an enrichment.

“Their sense of smell is so powerful that it’s difficult to measure, but they think they have some of the best noses, so they can supposedly smell a food source within a mile or two,” explains Foster.

And Oscar loves having his food delivered in picnic baskets that sit at his picnic table at the back of his exhibit.

“I want everyone to know that we monitor his behavior very closely, he has no interest in eating those picnic baskets, obviously we don’t give him picnic baskets with screws or bolts… like I said, he just likes to eat out of his picnic basket.” ‘ Foster explains.

“Hunters, it’s that time of year that people go deer hunting, bears, as Maria said, have an excellent nose, so they’ll attack your game feeders if you don’t protect them, they want to find the easiest food source,” says Taylor . “And you know that here in Louisiana, bears have been worked almost to the point of extinction and have been taken off the endangered species list since 2016 by wildlife and fisheries efforts.”

Taylor says if you see them in the wild, just leave them alone. She says they’re great for the environment, especially when it comes to seed dispersal.

“Despite the name black bear, they come in many different colors, they can be gray to blue-gray, they can be brown or cinnamon, white and of course black,” says Foster. “So the most common color for a ‘black bear’ is actually brown.”

All of the animals at the zoo have wish lists on the Zoological Society’s Facebook page where you can donate fun items for Christmas.

Jungle Bells is also coming up, it’s a day off at the zoo courtesy of Jeff Guerriero. It is December 17 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Admission is free, but train and boat rides are $3. You will set up food and shopping stalls, animal encounters, a bike gift and of course Santa Claus!

The zoo is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can find Oscar in the Louisiana Purchase Exhibit.

If you want to learn more about the black bear, click here.