Gladys Porter Zoo ready to introduce Ben the bear to visitors

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Ben the bear looking on curiously at Gladys Porter Zoo in this undated photo. (Courtesy Photo)

A bear from Missouri known for escaping his exhibit twice in a month, is officially ready to meet the Rio Grande Valley.

Ben, a 4-year-old spectacled bear, has been making himself home at Gladys Porter Zoo. And while Ben’s previous habitat at the St. Louis Zoo wasn’t “Ben-proof,” zoo officials say they provided the crafty, young bear with a new set of challenges.

But why exactly did Gladys Porter Zoo need to make the bear’s new habitat “Ben-proof”?

Well, back in February, a bear swept through national news for escaping his exhibit — twice. That bear? None other than Ben. He first escaped his enclosure on Feb. 7, then again prompting a lockdown for nearly an hour on Feb. 23, according to KMOV4.

According to GPZ, Ben’s previous home would “be the envy of any spectacled bear” as it was a lush, spacious exhibit. However, being the crafty young bear he is, Ben dismantled the wire mesh that enveloped his exhibit and the challenge “was beginning to morph into a pastime,” the release stated.

Nevertheless, zoo officials said minor adjustments were made to its bear exhibit prior to Ben’s arrival.

“We discovered very early on that he is a very intelligent and adventurous animal. In an extra effort to keep him busy in a positive way, staff have randomized his feeding schedule and make sure to provide him with plenty of enrichment throughout his day,” GPZ’s Curator of Mammals Walter DuPree said. “In addition, our keepers initiated recall training, using a unique sound to summon Ben to quickly come to a certain area in exchange for a reward.

“This training is an integral part of a long-term management plan for Ben, and one that seems to delight both keepers and bear alike.”

Ben the bear seen cooling off in a small pond at Gladys Porter Zoo in this undated photo. (Courtesy Photo)

The bear exhibit at GPZ features a running stream, a large moat and overhanging cliffs, with zoo officials noting that it previously housed spectacled bears without security issues. Moreover, Ben completed his customary quarantine period behind the scenes in his new exhibit.

“For any animal, establishing familiarity with new sleeping quarters and caretakers is critical to building a solid and trusting relationship,” the release stated. “This is especially true for Ben because of his history of being somewhat of an escape artist.”

Furthermore, zoo officials say that Ben has gradually become acquainted with his new home, and is ready to introduce himself to the Valley as you can now see him when you visit the zoo.

Spectacled bears, also known as Andean bears, are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the release noted. An estimated 10,000 are left throughout their native range in South America.