Johnny Huntington, manager of the Two Rivers Wildlife Park, said Little Bear, the dying cub the park rescued in May and nursed back to health, turns one year old on Saturday.
“We are holding a surprise party for him at 1:30 p.m. at his enclosure.”
Yes, Huntington admits Little Bear will be spoiled on his special day.
“We’re going to set up a cake made of fruit and vegetables on a table and let him dive into it,” he said.
”We’ll be putting blended fruit in there as well — blackberries, strawberries, blueberries — so he’ll have fun making a mess of it I’m sure.”
Little Bear did get an early birthday present.
“We put a buoy in there about a week ago — one of the big plastic ones — it’s hanging from the top of his cage on a rope,” Huntington said.
He said Little Bear swings and climbs on it and chews on the rope.
“He’s having a ball and even popped a hole in it already.”
Anyone wishing to bring a birthday gift might want to visit the produce section of their grocery store.
“He’s not a fan of carrots but really likes berries — strawberries, blueberries, blackberries — anything with a bit of sweetness to it,” Huntington said.
However he cautioned people never to try to feed Little Bear. Anyone attending Saturday can simply drop gifts off at the admissions building and the staff will ensure Little Bear has a “berry delicious” week of meals to follow.
Following the birthday party the public is invited to the upstairs of the former administrative building for cake and hot chocolate.
Little Bear’s saga began back in May, when Michael Sylliboy of Whycocomagh saw the cub wondering around buildings and going back and forth on the highway. After seeing no adult bears around and concerned over the cub, he took him to the Two Rivers Wildlife Park.
The cub was dehydrated, severely underweight and also had pneumonia. The park wasn’t sure he’d pull through. However, after nursing him back to health, the park was faced with some heartbreaking options. Huntington said the cub was too young to put in with the other park bears and, after being raised by humans, could not be released back into the wild.
Through Department of Natural Resources regulations, the park was informed that the only way they could keep the cub was to add a 40 ft. by 40 ft. section onto his current enclosure immediately and within a year expand it to an 18,000 sq. ft. enclosure with a pool, which would cost about $40,000, not including labour.
If they were unable to build the enclosure, the park was told the cub would have to be put down.
Huntington said after a story on Little Bear appeared in the Cape Breton Post what followed was heart-warming, as people began contributing and adopting Little Bear from across Canada and even the United States.
When asked if he was surprised Huntington said: “yes and no,” noting “the public and businesses always seem to come through for us to help us out, especially in situations like this.”
He said the surprise was in how widely spread the help was as people began contributing from as far away as Vancouver and the United States.
“Ontario was a big supporter this time, a lot of money came in from Ontario. We did a lot of adoptions and they are still coming in.”
He said so far they’ve raised between $31,000-$32,000 and are hoping people continue to help towards their goal of $40,000.
He said they were all set to start extending Little Bear’s enclosure but it was put on hold due to the weather.
“All the pipes are welded up and ready to go. It’s just a matter of getting a break in the weather.”
The final addition will see Little Bear have all the amenities of the wild.
“Yes, he’ll have a natural wooded area and a pool.”
He said in the meantime people are arriving at the park to see Little Bear all the time.
“We’re also always getting repeat visitors, people coming back to see how he is doing.”
The Cape Breton Post visited Little Bear at the park on Monday, and as usual, the cub ran along the fence when he saw park attendant Mike Timmons. Timmons practically raised Little Bear at the park from day one has developed a deep bond with the cub, with the two enjoying wrestling matches to getting daily bear hugs.
When asked how much time he spends with Little Bear each day, Timmons simply replies: “As much as possible.”
“I’ll go up in the morning to do the feeding and will spend a bit of time with him and in the evening when I come to put the animals down for the night I spend a little more time with him again.”
Mealtime is usually a big time but Little Bear wasn’t too anxious to dig in Monday.
“He’s not excited as he doesn’t have any grapes on his food,” Timmons said. “He likes the grapes the best. I can actually pet him while he is lapping them up with his tongue.”
Timmons said Little Bear is a lot of fun to watch, and has become a bit of a show off.
“Loves carrying his big stick with one hand,” he said. “He puts it on his shoulder and walks around with it looking like Charlie Chaplin with his little hobble there.
“I came to feed him the other day and he was sitting in his big water bucket holding his stick in his hand looking at me. “
He said Little Bear also enjoys putting on a show for the crowd and runs to the fence when he hears the wagon coming.
“He gets very excited when people are watching.”
He said it’s amazing how much attention Little Bear has caught.
“People come to the park and all they want to do is see Little Bear. They want to know how to find him, if he’s over his sickness and how the funding is going.”
Volunteer Joan McNeil of Sydney is making the birthday bear cake.
“Yes, it is the first cake I’ve ever made for a bear!” she said, laughing.
McNeil said she loves Little Bear and is quite happy to make him a cake for his special day.
She said it will include lots of fruits and berries inside.
“We want to make it as healthy as we can for him too, we don’t want to throw him off his diet too much.”
She said they are not sure about the outside, as she is still researching ways to do it.
“I have to talk to the park but I’m thinking maybe watermelon.”
Wilf Butler and his wife Judy, of Sydney, and their daughter Shannon Evans and grandchildren Rhys Evans and Carys Evans of Musquodoboit, were all found visiting Little Bear on Monday. Wilf Butler said they had been following the stories in the Post.
“We’ve been wanting to get out to see him and were glad to finally get out today.”
The Butlers said at their church, the United Heritage Church in Sydney, the young people recently held a pancake breakfast and raised $600 for Little Bear’s new enclosure.
If you want to SURPRISE Little Bear :
• Surprise birthday party being held for Little Bear at his enclosure at the Two Rivers Park at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
• Cake and hot chocolate will be served in the former administration building for the public afterwards.
• Free wagon rides from 1-3 p.m., trails are open, petting zoo and if there’s snow bring your sled for some sledding fun.
• With March break here, free wagon rides will be provided at the park all week 1-3 p.m. daily along with many other fun activities.
If you want to HELP Little Bear:
• People wishing to help build an enclosure for Little Bear can adopt him for $100 and through the gratitude of the park will receive a photo of Little Bear, a certificate of adoption, a history as well as their own “little bear,” a stuffed replica.
• Corporations wishing to sponsor the enclosure for $1,000 and up will have the name of their business mounted on it.
• The park has also started a Chase the Ace on Thursdays at the Marion Bridge Recreation Centre from 6:30-9 p.m., a partnership with the centre, with the park’s share raised going towards the enclosure. A person does not have to be there to win. Tickets can be purchased at the wildlife park, Mullin’s Mini Mart in Albert Bridge, Church’s supermarket in Marion Bridge and at the recreation centre on the day of the draw.
• People can also help by simply visiting the park through the park admission.
• Anyone wishing to make a donation, adopt ‘Little Bear’ or volunteer their time can contact the park at 902-727-2483 or visit the park’s website at www.tworiverspark.ca or email the park at firstname.lastname@example.org