Farewell dearest Hayley Bear

Keeping our big cats healthy with rope-pulling enrichment activity
May 17, 2019
Education Team awarded Silver and Bronze BIAZA Awards
July 2, 2019

Farewell dearest Hayley Bear

We are very sad to announce the death of Hayley, our much-loved European brown bear. She was one of the great characters of Dartmoor Zoo and will be missed by thousands of people.

Born at the Highland Wildlife Park on Christmas Day 1985, Hayley moved to Dartmoor less than 18 months later, and soon became a firm friend of Fudge, who was already living here. In 1993, male bear Ben arrived and together the three of them were moved into the more natural, wooded bear enclosure, a better environment for them, with better viewing opportunities for our visitors.

The three bears became some of the zoo’s most popular animals, and their interactions were enjoyed by so many. They were often mistaken as ‘Mummy, Daddy and baby bear’ due to Fudge being much smaller as a Syrian brown bear. Hayley was very protective over Fudge, and the two girls would usually be together; resting or exploring or playing or eating! Ben enjoyed Hayley’s company, but he and Fudge didn’t always see eye to eye. He could use his great size to dominate Fudge and push her away from something he wanted. Hayley was a wonderful peacemaker – she would always run to Fudge’s aid, get in the middle of any argument, and put Ben in his place! A glimpse of her nurturing character.

Under the previous management, visitors had been able to feed the bears peanuts, but this did lead to some quite fat and lazy bears! At the formation of Dartmoor Zoo, visitor feeding stopped and the bears were encouraged to forage for their food which would be scatter fed (multiple times a day in summer) or placed in puzzle feeders and other enrichment items. Hayley always loved her food, leading to nicknames including ‘Hayley the hoover’ in her younger days! Like all bears she had a sweet tooth and enjoyed fruit (except bananas!) and sweet veg like corn. In her later years Hayley became more particular and would refuse green veg, to the point she would eat red peppers but not green. Meat, fish and eggs, as well as treats like peanut butter and invertebrates were always much appreciated.

Hayley has always had a special relationship with her keepers; a very clever bear, through her hugely expressive eyes and behaviour, she has been able to make her feelings known to those who care for, often enabling them to alter their behaviour or provisions accordingly. Whether this has been sitting in the doorway of her bedroom and refusing to come in, until what she deemed to be an appropriate reward was given (not just pellets!); focusing on watching Fudge’s training sessions, rather than eating the food she had been given to keep her occupied – letting the keepers know she’d like to participate as well; using hessian sacks given for enrichment as pillows instead – encouraging the keepers to offer more unusual bedding items like feather duvets; glaring disapprovingly whenever she was disturbed from her resting spot (sorry Hayley); huffing loudly outside her bedroom door when keepers were cleaning in there – to make them hurry up!

Keepers were concerned for Hayley following Fudge’s death in 2017. After Ben was euthanised in 2012, due to a spinal growth, the girls, particularly Fudge, came out of their shells more and were able to relax. They could do whatever they wanted, without Ben throwing his weight around. Having lived together for 30 years, they had a very close relationship, and there was a chance that Hayley may not have coped with the loss and become depressed. Thankfully, keepers and researchers monitored Hayley closely and this was not the case. With plenty of TLC from staff, after a normal sleepy winter, she was her usual self when the weather improved in Spring 2018, and keen to interact with people and any enrichment in her enclosure.

Earlier this year however, Hayley began causing vets and keepers more concern when she had a period of ill health. Although she appeared to recover, her arthritis had developed, and her mobility had become more affected. With much greater difficulty was Hayley able to get around her enclosure, and the inclines were proving particularly challenging and potentially hazardous. Hayley received both supplementation and medication for her arthritis for several years and was monitored closely by our local vet and the International Zoo Veterinary Group. Following changes to her treatment and allowing for the usual change in activity from Winter into Summer, unfortunately her condition did not improve. Following advice from our vets and the ethical review committee, the decision was made to euthanise Hayley before her condition deteriorated any further.

Hayley will be hugely missed by all staff, volunteers, and visitors. Some of you will have had the pleasure of meeting her yourselves during our Big Cat Keeper for a Day and Meet the Bear experiences. She always delighted her legions of fans with her stubborn, cheeky, no-nonsense and nosey character – needless to say she was a beautiful bear.

Having spent 32 years at Dartmoor, she became somewhat of a matriarch to our family. Life at the zoo goes on, but we will never forget you Hayley Bear.


  1. Paula Richards says:

    It’s always sad to loose a friend, especially an animal friend……
    But remember them and how much they taught you!

  2. Rachel Ruebner says:

    What a wonderful bear (actually all three of them seemed to have been pretty wonderful in their own ways)! I live in the U.S. so I never got to meet dear Hayley. She was a beauty! Sad about the loss of her.

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