SALT LAKE CITY — Tucked into the far west end in the Rocky Shores area of Hogle Zoo, three bears — Koda, Lou Lou and Dolly — are all working on their own den for the winter, ready to hibernate.
"They thought they needed a den, so they made their own den," the zoo's primary bear keeper, Joanne Randinitis, said. "It's not something we can really control. They wanted to do it and they're going to do it."
Within the last week or so, the bears have literally dug a hole in a dirt berm within their confines. The den is about 4 feet high and 8 feet deep, started from scratch, as the weather cooled.
"The whole roof is all nail scratches everywhere, so they're using the only tools they have, which are their nails and muscles and determination to do it," Randinitis said.
Dolly, the smallest of the three, pokes her head out and stays put as if to protect it from predators.
Lou Lou, a medium-sized female, meticulously scrapes piles of straw from a man-made shelter and into the den. It's a distance of about 20 feet, but she gingerly scrapes the straw and moves backward to the den, almost obsessive about her task.
The bears are following their instincts to create a hibernation habitat. They haven't done this before, partly because past enclosures have been concrete, and the weather has gotten much colder much earlier this year.
Normally, bears wouldn't eat during hibernation, but zoo keepers will keep providing food, just in case they want it.
Within a matter of days, the three may disappear for a long winter's nap. When they emerge again is anybody's guess.