Sun Bear Encounter at the National Zoo & Aquarium
Talk about a touching experience!
22 year old male Aritaki (or Taki) and 15 year old female Otay are the shining stars, with the two bears lapping up their food and looking adorable while doing it.
The $55 (or $70 if you go on the weekend or a public holiday) is well worth spending in my opinion.
The encounter is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays.
The money gets you experiences including meeting the bears and feeding them for around 20-25 minutes.
I also got an in depth look into the bears, how they got to the zoo and the organisations and charities involved with them all thanks to the work of Zookeeper Kelly.
Zookeeper Kelly told me that Sun Bears are the strongest of all bears, despite their small frame.
They’re also known as ‘honey bears’ because of the honey colour on their fur, and the ‘dog bear’ because they act (and even bark) like dogs.
After going through the meet and greet process with the instructor, I was asked to sign a form and then the encounter began!
Once you get to the waiting area next to the bear exhibit and completed the pre-encounter process, you are taken inside to feed Taki (pictured), who gets fed first due to his hangry nature.
There is a painted yellow line in the indoor feeding area, ensuring that no damage is done to your hands while feeding Taki, but you are still an arms length away from him.
After feeding Taki, you’re taken outside to feed Otay. Spoon feeding her dog kibble through the metal fence separating the bears from the humans.
Zookeeper Kelly told me that dog kibble is a part of their regular diet, as well as fruit and nuts and smaller birds and bugs.
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You get a lot closer to the bears than I initially thought, due to their aggressive nature and rough exterior. Despite this, they are gentle animals, almost like oversized teddy bears.
Otay (pictured) has a particularly sad story, but one that really showcases the amazing work of not only the zoo, but the charity that they work with to preserve the bears.
Otay was rescued from poachers when she was very young, and has since been accustomed to captive life and can not be released back into the wild. She was rescued by the Free the Bears Foundation, one that works very closely with the zoo to help ensure that bears get a great life.
She was constantly swaying back and forth, holding on to the metal (like in the picture), and doing a little dance while waiting for her food.
If you do this encounter and decide that it’s not enough Sun Bear action, the Zoo has a Jamala Wildlife Lodge where you can stay with them overnight and see how they behave up close and personal. This option is quite expensive at around $2,000 per night.
Overall, if you like Bears and are interested in this encounter, I would definitely recommend it! It’s a great experience, I learnt a lot about my favourite animal and would absolutely do it again.