Bears, like other species of animals, are genetically endowed with the physical and mental abilities that they require to live successfully in the habitat they are born to occupy. Bears are born with certain innate expectations or needs that change as the bear matures from a cub to an independent adult. For example, a bear cub has an innate expectation that it will be cared for by a mother. Indeed, the cub can do nothing without a caregiver to meet its physical, psychological, and social needs. Behavior-based husbandry is the modern method of caring for captive wildlife that provides for the species-specific needs of the animal. In rehabilitation, the genetic expectation that a cub has for a nurturing caregiver is met through a human surrogate, the rehabilitator. As the cub matures its natural tendency is to change its focus from the mother, to the mother and siblings, and then again to family and environment, and finally to environment and creating its own family as it disperses from its natal home. The surrogate accommodates this growth and change in care by slowly diminishing human influence and allowing the cub to interact with other cubs at the appropriate age. Behavior-based husbandry is focused on the animals’ agenda and holistically includes enclosure design and furniture, diet presentation and nutrition, care and maintenance routines, caregiver and animal relationship, ambient parameters (ex. photoperiod, temperature, sound), and veterinary care. Poulsen 2014
The success of behavior-based husbandry is rooted in the fact that the further a bear’s captive environment veers from its genetic expectations and capabilities the more difficult it is to adapt and the greater the stress levels experienced and expressed by the bear. Mimicking a bear’s natural habitat and the ingredients to express its normal daily and seasonal activity patterns reduces stressors inherent in captivity and promotes mental and physical well-being.