New cave installed for bears

The WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center has a new man-made cave, giving the bears something novel to explore in their exercise yard.

“Our bears enjoy digging dens in the yard,” said Brandon Hutzenbiler, the manager at the center. “But they always collapse, so we figured we’d give them something permanent.”

He hopes the bears will use it as another place to escape the weather, get some privacy, or play.

“In the heat of summer, this should give them a location that’s a little cooler,” Hutzenbiler said. “We’ll put in some straw and make it as comfortable as possible in there.”

A bear stands outside the entrance of a man-made cave on a grass covered hill.
One of the bears at the WSU Bear Center stands outside the new artificial cave in the exercise yard.

The cave is actually a 10-foot long steel culvert buried in the side of a hill in the existing 2-acre exercise yard. The culvert was specially made to have a flat top and bottom, to be more comfortable for the bears.

The structure and installation cost just under $2,000 and was paid for by a regular donor to the facility.

“We mentioned that we were thinking about doing some improvements to the center to boost our enrichment program,” Hutzenbiler said. “He liked the idea of the culvert cave, and now here it is. We think the bears will really appreciate it.”

The culvert took about four hours for staff to install, and is buried about four feet deep. It’s sealed off at one end, so the bears can’t dig out any further into the hill. But there’s plenty of room for them to turn around once inside.

The structure was installed in mid-April, and opened for the bears to use a few weeks later. The staff wanted to make the sure the fresh dirt was packed back down and the vegetation they put down was established.

Wide shot showing how small the cave looks compared to the rest of the exercise yard.
The new cave looks small from a distance, but provides a new place for the bears to hang out.

“If the bears see fresh dirt, they instinctively want to dig further,” Hutzenbiler said. “So we put up some temporary fencing to make sure they didn’t dig the whole culvert out. We’re excited now that they can use it. I’m curious to see what they’ll do with it.”

The center hopes to install a second cave in the near future, if the bears use this one.

“It just adds another dimension to their yard,” Hutzenbiler said. “It really mimics a space that they’ve tried to build themselves several times. This way it’s safe for them, won’t cave in, and fulfills that desire they have to be underground.”