An endangered sloth bear at Zoo Boise is getting a new home. Last fall, the Zoo started to renovate Paji's exhibit. Friday it opens back up to the public where they'll likely find Paji siting in the grass, relaxing in the sunshine.
On this day, a zookeeper tries to get her attention by banging on a metal pipe. The eight-year-old sloth bear ambles over as the zookeeper pours mealworms into the tube. On the other end, Paji sucks them up. “In the wild she digs into termite mounds,” says Steve Burns, Director of Zoo Boise. “She digs into ant hills and then she puts her lips up and sucks those insects out so this is just re-creating that activity that she would do in the wild.”
Paji’s still getting used to her new home. It looks much different from the old one, which was built in 1967. Over the years, the sewer underneath had collapsed, the water and electrical systems needed an upgrade. And the old moat took up too much space.
Now there are climbing trees, grass, and a glass viewing wall. Liz Littman, Director of Development at Zoo Boise, says one side of the exhibit really stands out - the bright blue wall, that looks like a palace. “It’s designed to look like the blue city of Jodhpur in India, which is right on the outskirts of sloth bears native range.”
The renovation costs $550,000. Ten-percent of this, and of all future renovation projects, go toward wildlife conservation. In this case, Littman says the Zoo partnered with Wildlife SOS, a conservation group in India that helps protect sloth bears in the wild.
“We have given them $50,000 to help write a manual for police officers and lawyers in India to successfully prosecute wildlife poachers,” she explains. Some of money will also go to sloth bear habitat conservation in India.
Paji sucks up the last of the mealworms and wanders into the sun. Littman says Paji has settled in well to her new home. “We gave her about a week in here by herself to get used to it," she says. "She’s been exploring and digging and finding lots of bugs and I think she likes it a whole lot and people will be able to get a different view of her then you ever have been able to before.”
Behind the scenes, the renovation turned one bear den into three, opening the door to add more sloth bears in the future. Paji is a member of the Species Survival Program…think of it like an in-zoo dating service. The goal is to find her a boyfriend so they can mate and help save this endangered species.
Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio