Scratching an itch now easier for WSU bears

Repairs and upgrades make old things new again. That’s true at the WSU Bear Center as well as anywhere else. And the climbing structure at the center needed a little upgrade.

Three people brace a red cylinder on top of a yellow cylinder as they try to chain them against a wooden post.
Staff and volunteers stack up the new scratching posts and chain them to the repaired climbing structure in the WSU Bear Center’s exercise yard.

So late last month, staff and volunteers at the center spent an afternoon cleaning up the exercise yard and doing small repairs on the climbing structure. They also added in a grizzly-sized scratching post for the bears to use.

First, some of the grass and clover had become overgrown, so two weed-whackers and half an hour later, the yard was looking a little better.

Second, some boards in the climber were starting to rot. So they were replaced, including an important bit of structural support. That makes things much safer for the bears to use, as it eliminates any chance of an old board giving way or getting cuts or injuries from splintered wood or old nails.

Lastly, the staff and volunteers stacked two street sweeper cylinders on top of each other, then strapped them to the side of the climbing structure. That gives the bears a great rough structure to rub up against when they’ve got an itch.

The staff also apply different oils to the brushes, like anise, which they love to rub on themselves.

“We have to keep things up to date and safe for the bears,” said Brandon Hutzenbiler, manager of the center. “And they love any place where they can scratch an itch. That new post is really popular.”

The center is adding other upgrades as well, especially given the extreme heat experienced in early August. New swimming pools were added to each bear run, so they can all have a place to cool down. Staff also put up water misters on top of the runs, so bears can get nice cool water misting down on them if they want to be out.

The bears do have air conditioning in their dens, so don’t often go outside in the hottest part of the day.

“It’s important to keep the bears as comfortable as possible,” Hutzenbiler said. “They don’t have their winter fur yet, but it’s still hot for them. So we’re doing what we can, including giant fruit-filled ice blocks, to cool them off.”