The Bear Care Group is a non-profit group dedicated to the continued organization of international bear husbandry conferences, programs, publications, and resources for bear caregivers at sanctuaries, rehabilitation facilities, and zoos. This website provides the most recent information and easy access to all conference needs including; conference and hotel registration, transportation info, and more.

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How do bears learn, problem solve, communicate, and respond to their environment? At Advancing Bear Care 2013 - Understanding Bears, held in Clinton, New Jersey, USA, we focused on exploring the vast realm of the cognitive and physical needs of captive bears in zoos, sanctuaries, and rehabilitation facilities, and discussed how to provide stimulating complex natural environments to meet those needs. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the United States with over 1,200 humans per square mile, and yet the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife operates a successful wild American Black Bear Program that allows citizens to co-habitat with a large, wild bear population. The Woodlands Wildlife Refuge is key to the success of the program as they work tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate, and subsequently release orphaned bear cubs back into the wild. The Bear Care Group was delighted to partner with the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in Clinton, New Jersey to help to highlight the enormous challenge of rehabilitating wild bears for release back into their habitat.


The Advancing Bear Care conferences are powered entirely by volunteers. Before the conference, volunteers, communicating with each other via electronics across borders and oceans, use their talents and time to pull together an extraordinary team effort that culminates in a well-orchestrated event that provides a format for learning, information sharing, and networking to further captive bear care globally. We wish to thank our gracious hosts, Tracy Leaver, the volunteers and staff, and the Board of Directors of the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge for their hospitality - New Jersey style. We wish to recognize the special efforts of volunteers John Frink, Erica Miller, and John Satta for providing flawlessly well executed IT support throughout the conference. The ABC 2013 logo that everyone has referred to as Puzzlebear was designed by our talented volunteer Courtney Janney of Life’s a Zoo.  We would like to highlight the effort made by the wild bear biologists who were invited as guest speakers and who guided us through New Jersey bear habitat. Our conference is outside of their daily realm and yet they volunteer their time to explain how wild bears use their habitat for daily and seasonal living. This information is valuable to us as we work towards bringing the essential aspects of wild bear living into the lives of captive bears. We want to thank all of our volunteers, sponsors, speakers, poster presenters, moderators, and delegates for your enthusiasm and tremendous support.   



On opening night, Thursday, Oct 3rd, a tag team of bear rehabilitation professionals gave the Key Note Address focused on the science and success of bear rehabilitation and release. John Beecham discussed three decades of bear rehabilitation data accumulated by biologists and rehabilitators worldwide, delineating the overall significant success of bear rehabilitation globally. Angelika Langen presented the work of Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter rehabilitating grizzly bears and American black bears in a remote region of British Columbia, Canada, as well the reasons why rehabilitation is important for conservation and animal welfare. Tracy Leaver focused on the successful American black bear rehabilitation and release program at the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, and also discussed the innate challenges of release into populated New Jersey bear habitat. Kelcey Burguess concluded the address by discussing how American black bears live alongside 80 million people in New Jersey and still thrive.


On Friday, Oct 4th morning delegates loaded into two buses and headed north into the state's human populated bear country that was comprised of several forest communities including swamp hardwood, hemlock-mixed hardwood and chestnut oak forest communities, and corn fields, crop lands and fruit growing operations. Kelcey Burguess and Mike Madonia led the hikes interpreting bear habitat and the work of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. 



Robyn Appleton - Spectacled Bear Conservation - Peru


Dr. Heather Bacon - Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education


Dr. John Beecham - Bear Rehabilitation Research


Dr. Gay Bradshaw - Theory and practice animal psychological rehabilitation and conservation


Kelcey Burguess - American black bear/human living in New Jersey


Nicola Field - Animals Asia Foundation - China


Dr. Gabriella Fredriksson - Sun Bear Environmental Education Facility, Indonesia


Valerie Hare - The Shape of Enrichment


Angelika Langen - Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter


Tracy Leaver - Woodlands Wildlife Refuge


Dr. William McShea - Bears of China


David Morales - Queens Zoo


Else Poulsen - The Language of Bears


Jay Pratte - Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, Operant Conditioning


Dr. Jill Robinson MBE - Animals Asia Foundation


Charlie Russell - Brown Bear Behavior


Kartick Satyanarayan - Rescuing the last of the dancing bears of India


Dr. Geeta Seshamani - Caring for bears in India's bear sanctuary 


Annemarie Weegenaar -  Animals Asia Foundation - Vietnam



Afternoons and evenings, delegates alternated attending presentations by guest lecturers with attending species-specific and topical workshops wherein delegates discussed and solved husbandry problems that they described. Among the more traditional workshops which included polar bear, sloth bear, sun bear, and temperate bear workshops and behavior-based husbandry, enrichment, operant conditioning, and veterinary workshops, new workshops were added which included bear rehabilitation, bear sanctuaries, bear trauma resolution, raising neonates, and the Andean bear Workshop hosted at the Queens Zoo.



Poster presentation sessions were scattered throughout the conference and contributing organizations included the Chester Zoo (UK), the Denver Zoo (USA), the Five Sisters Zoo (Scotland), the North Shore Black Bear Society (Canada), the Smithsonian National  Zoological Park (USA), the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (USA), the Utah's Hogle Zoo (USA), the Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears (Scotland), and Zoo Atlanta (USA). Amongst others, topics included summaries on the rehabilitation of European brown bears rescued from a circus environment, improving the care of brown bears using enrichment and operant conditioning in an 1918 old style enclosure, and the operant conditioning of a female Andean bear to receive medical therapy.



On Saturday afternoon, Oct 5th, the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge hosted all 110 delegates with tours, talks, and entertainment. This was the first time that most of delegates had ever had an opportunity to go behind-the-scenes of a bear rehabilitation facility to understand how it operates.  




Saturday evening, Oct 5th was designed for networking, learning, and fun. Jason Pratte emcee'd the evening introducing speakers from the Andean Bear Foundation, Five Sisters Zoo, Lions, Tigers, & Bears, The North Shore Black Bear Society, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, the Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears, and the Wisconsin Black Bear Education Center. The winners of the Poster Presentation Awards were announced, and the winners of the Wild Bear People Silent Auction. 


On Monday, Oct 7th, the Bronx Zoo graciously hosted 55 delegates, allowing us the opportunity to view several demonstrations involving enrichment and operant conditioning. The Bronx Zoo is currently home to brown bears and polar bears.



At the request of past delegates, the Bear Care Group offered its first Helping Hands-On Project at our partner facility. On Tuesday, Oct 8th, 30 delegates rolled up their sleeves and shared their experience and knowledge making furniture, enrichment, and refurbishing nest boxes at the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge. Grace the American black bear agreed that the day was a complete success as she worked up her courage to move into the new area of her enclosure and use her soft and cozy fire hose bed. She also decided that the digging pit designed for scattered enrichment foods provided a wonderfully soft substrate for her rump. Thus the digging pit was for sitting not digging after all!