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About ​Us

Mission Statement

The Bear Care Group creates and enhances communication, cooperation and education among international bear care professionals by organizing bear care programs, publications and resources focused on advancing and sharing information on bear behavior, husbandry, enrichment, training, veterinary care and other topics to further global bear welfare and conservation efforts.


The Bear Care Group
P.O. Box 596366

Fort Gratiot, Michigan
48059-6366 United States


Listserv: To subscribe to the Bear Care Group’s Yahoo group listserv, send an email to: 

You can post a question by sending it to: 

​    Board of Directors
​Lifetime Honorary Director, Founding President: Else M. B. Poulsen (deceased)

Else Poulsen began her career in animal behavior in the early 1980's working as a field biologist in Alberta’s oil patch. When the bottom dropped out of the energy industry she became an entry level zookeeper at the Calgary Zoo working with a wide variety of animal species, from toads to tigers. Over time Else developed a keen interest in large carnivore behavior and specialized in captive bear behavior, husbandry, and management. She was led to research aberrant behaviors in captive bears, publish her findings, and advocate for change. After 18 years at the Calgary Zoo Else left to work at the Detroit Zoo, and then several bear specialist facilities in Canada. As the founding consultant for Behavioral & Environmental Solutions she provided expertise on modernizing bear husbandry methods, environmental enrichment programming, and enclosure design and redesign to zoos, sanctuaries, rehabilitation facilities, and animal welfare groups around the world. Else has over forty publications to her name including peer reviewed journals, technical journals, articles for the media, and a big part in the textbook Stereotypic Animal Behavior – Fundamentals and Applications to Welfare, 2nd Edition. Her first bear behavior book titled Smiling Bears – A Zookeeper Explores the Behavior and Emotional Life of Bears was published in May 2009. Her second bear book, Bärle’s Story - One Polar Bear's Amazing Recovery from Life as a Circus Act was released in Spring 2014. Else was the founding president of the Board of Directors for the Bear Care Group. She is now an honorary board member and her legacy will live on in the work of the Bear Care Group.

President: Jason Pratte​


Jay has been an animal caregiver for over two decades, and has been privileged enough during this time to work with all eight extant bear species. His primary focus is training, both of animals as well as caregivers. Behavioral husbandry training of bears and carnivores has long been a specialty, focusing on complex medical behaviors. In the past several years Jay has been training animal keepers and caregivers around the world in operant conditioning techniques. One of these adventures was showcased on Animal Planet's "Growing Up Panda". Jay is on the American Association of Zookeepers AAZK National Behavioral Management Committee and also the AAZK Grants Committee. He holds a Master's degree in Zoo and Aquarium Leadership, and has published several peer-reviewed papers on developing training, public speaking and emergency response skills. Jay is a founding Board of Directors member for the Bear Care Group, and has previously held the treasurer and vice president positions.

Vice President/Treasurer: Dr. Mindy Babitz


​Mindy Babitz is a senior animal keeper at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park where she has worked since 1998 with a wide variety of animals including sloth bears, Andean bears, Kodiak bears, giant pandas, primates, big cats, hoof stock, and several small carnivore species.  Since 2006, she has been primarily responsible for a variety of Asian carnivores and is also on the zoo’s carnivore hand-rearing team.  Mindy is currently the National Zoo’s institutional representative to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Sloth Bear Species Survival Plan and a non-voting member of the AZA Bear Taxon Advisory Group's Steering Committee. In addition to caring for the sloth bears and giant pandas at the zoo’s Asia Trail exhibit, she is also involved in ongoing research investigating stereotypic behaviors in bears with a focus on how animal managers can enhance the lives of and improve welfare for bears in captivity.  Mindy has a background in animal behavior and cognition, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Virginia and a Doctorate of Psychology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Mindy joined the Bear Care Group Board of Directors in 2010.

Secretary: Annemarie Weegenaar

Annemarie Weegenaar lived in Asia for 17 years where she mostly worked with Asiatic black bears and Malayan sun bears. In Indonesia she set up husbandry routines for sun bears at a newly established education centre. For 10 years she worked with Animals Asia who works on ending the bear bile trade. First as a Bear Manager at their Chengdu Bear Rescue Centre where she managed a bear team who provided care for Asiatic black bears and brown bears. Then in Vietnam where she established Animals Asia’s new rescue centre as their Bear & Vet Team Director. At the sanctuary she headed up a bear & vet team of 50 staff, ensuring the best care was provided for 150 traumatised bears rescued from bile farms and the wildlife trade. She hand reared orphaned cubs, established their diets and trained staff on their proper care. She was also involved in behavioural husbandry training of the bears. In 2016 Annemarie moved back to the Netherlands where she became the Director of Bears in Mind, a Dutch NGO who initiated the Bear Forest in the Netherlands, a sanctuary for abused European brown bears. Annemarie holds a Bachelor degree in Animal Management and is currently studying for a master’s degree in International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law. She is also establishing an NGO’s to improve the welfare of wild animals in rescue centres. Annemarie has been on the Board of Directors of the Bear Care Group since 2016 and was involved in organising the Advancing Bear Care Workshops in Vietnam and India.

Director: Dr. Heather Bacon

Heather graduated from the University of Liverpool, UK with a first class Intercalated Honours degree in Veterinary Conservation Medicine and from the University of Bristol, UK with her BVSc (DVM) Veterinary degree. She has obtained her postgraduate Certificate in Zoological Medicine from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Heather has worked with a large variety of captive and free ranging wildlife both in the UK and abroad as well as numerous domestic animal species. Heather previously worked in China for over three years years as the Veterinary Director of the Animals Asia Foundation, a charity committed to improving standards of animal welfare. Currently she is the Veterinary Welfare Education and Outreach Manager in the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education at the University of Edinburgh, responsible for developing continuing education programs for zoo, wildlife and domestic animal veterinarians in Europe and Asia. Her main interests are in veterinary education, anesthesia  infectious disease prevention and captive wildlife management. Heather joined the Bear Care Group Board of Directors in 2009.

Director: Angelika Langen


Angelika and her husband Peter founded the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers BC Canada in 1990. Both formerly worked in as trained Zookeepers in German Zoos and opened their shelter to all BC wildlife in need of help.  However the shelter quickly became specialized in bear and ungulate rehab and birds are usually triaged to other shelters.  In 2007 NLWS formed a historic partnership with the BC Government to start Grizzly bear rehabilitation and therefore became the first licenced Grizzly rehab center in the world.  NLWS now works well beyond the borders of BC offering assistance to anyone interested in rehabbing around the world.  To date a total of 346 bears has made it to the shelter, including 18 grizzlies and 3 Kermode bears. Angelika joined the Bear Care Group Board of Directors in 2009.

Director: Angela Gibson


Angela Gibson is a Zoological Manager-California Trail for the Oakland Zoo. She has a background in animal behavior, completing a Master’s degree from Missouri State University in Biology. Angela is passionate about improving the captive welfare of bears, focusing primarily on the behavioral husbandry needs of North American species as well as developing assessment techniques specific to ursids to monitor their health and well-being. Working with brown bears and black bears she has trained individuals for complex medical behaviors to improve their veterinary care. Since 2009, Angela has been involved with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' bear taxon advisory group and was elected to the steering committee in 2018. She has been volunteering with the Bear Care Group since 2013 and joined the Board of Directors in 2016.

Advisor: Gail Hedberg

Gail Hedberg's career and commitment to veterinary medicine has encompassed all types and varieties of animal care. For the past 35 years, she has focused on the specific health care needs of zoo animals. As a registered veterinary technician, Gail’s job has includ assisting with anesthesia, hand-rearing, radiography (digital), surgical nursing, and various medical procedures on zoo, aquatic and wildlife species. As a neonatal care specialist, Gail is a well known international consultant for hand rearing. When people ask, “What type of animals have you raised?” Gail finds it is easier to list the animals that she hasn't raised. A 2008 Gail presented a PowerPoint discussion on infant mammal IgG protocols to the veterinary and senior staff of the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda. Gail has published her work in both peer review journals and has written the chapter for the hand-rearing of polar bears and felids in the book Hand Rearing Wild and Domestic Mammals. APolar Bears International study conducted by Gail provides the answers and sets the industry standard. The groundbreaking research helps biologists and zoos raise healthy polar bear cubs in captivity and in the wild. The results have been published in the Journal of Zoo Biology.

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