Today Taronga’s two Sunbears, ‘Victoria’ and ‘Mr. Hobbs’, helped get their teeth cleaned.
The carnivore keepers have trained the bears to open their large mouths when the keepers give them a special hand signal.
The bears then let the keepers use a toothbrush to clean their teeth and a special scalar to remove tartar from their canines.
The bears love it. Mr. Hobbs really wants to please Justine, but he’s so excited and has trouble containing his enthusiasm. “You can see him concentrating. He just tries so hard, but he’s such a ball of energy,” says Justine.
Victoria who is in the opposite den patiently waits her turn and is the model student. She sits very still and lets Justine brush her teeth until she is told ‘good’ and she knows the session is over.
A few years ago, Justine started teaching the bears to have their teeth brushed after noticing that they were getting tartar build up on their teeth.
“We didn’t want to have to give them an anaesthetic every six months and cart them off to the dentist. I knew they were smart bears and thought why not try and train them to have their teeth cleaned?”
It’s worked a treat. The bears have their teeth cleaned and scaled three times a week. They love the interaction and the rewards they get for opening wide.
Once the session is over, Victoria and Mr. Hobbs run back outside to discover a heap of food treats that have been hidden in their exhibit for them. This will keep them busy as they try and find the food, a far cry from the start of their lives when they were found in tiny cages outside an Asian restaurant waiting to be turned into bear paw soup.
“They’re very, very special bears,” said Justine.
The pair came to Taronga with the help of Free the Bears after being rescued from the restaurant trade in Cambodia over a decade ago.
Danielle, Zoo Communications.