A new bear in town

Published 10:02 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sugar, a brown bear, arrived at Bear Path Acres in February -- Mitzi Lusk | Tidewater News

FRANKLIN—What weighs 350 pounds and will do tricks on command for marshmallows?

If your answer was the newest resident of Bear Path Acres, you’d be correct.

The state and federally licensed zoo and animal rehabilitation center outside Franklin recently welcomed its newest resident, a 3-year-old brown bear named Sugar.

“She’s a happy bear now,” said zoo owner Debbie Jeter. “She runs, she plays, she is definitely blooming.”

Since arriving in Virginia on Feb. 12 from a Pennsylvania zoo, Sugar has learned from Jeter an assortment of tricks, which include waving and standing on command as well as posing for an audience.

“Brown bears are natural performers and will do silly, silly things to please the public,” she said.

Life was not always so easy for the now happy bear.

Jeter explained that Sugar was going to be used for mating at the zoo from which she was rescued, but the male bear refused her. She was given no toys, fed an inadequate diet, given very little stimulation and was forced to sleep on a concrete floor.

“She was a very depressed, very sad bear and she was given no animal enrichment,” Jeter said. “Animals are like humans; they have to have something to do. You have to enrich their lives.”

She wasn’t sure if they could take an animal like Sugar, but upon seeing her face, Jeter knew she had to do something. The zoo held fundraisers and received private donations from Cole Fencing, Billy and Shirley Camp, and C.B. Gray to help build a habitat for the new resident.

The bear eats chicken and vegetables such as carrots, apples, greens and zucchini, but most bears eat elk.

“We’re slowly convincing her to eat deer meat,” Jeter said. “Her favorite treat is sweet potato.”

The bear will also eat marshmallows as a treat.

Sugar joins 130 other animals at Bear Path Acres, ranging from native species that can be released into the wild to more exotic animals.

“They all just get here for their own reasons,” Jeter said.

The center boasts exotic animals such as Celebes Macaque, an endangered species of primate from Indonesia, as well a ring-tailed lemur and a black leopard named Leonardo.

The zoo also has a petting area featuring a duck, some rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas. The complex also has miniature horses, pygmy goats and a donkey as well as other animals.