Save the Bears

In 2011 we started making plans to rescue 3 ex-circus bears and re-home them here at Five Sisters Zoo. On Thursday 29th March 2012 they finally arrived!

Carmen, Peggy and Suzy spent the first 20 years of their lives in a travelling circus. Kept in tiny cages, they were finally rescued by a Belgian wildlife rescue centre in early 2011. Unfortunately the rescue centre was unable to offer them a permanent home, and so Five Sisters Zoo stepped up with a solution. Plans were made to bring the bears to live out the rest of their lives in peace and comfort at the zoo. The fundraising began, and soon our wonderful enclosure was being built.

After over a year of hard work, the three bears finally arrived on the evening of Thursday 29th March 2012. Released into their woodland for the first time, it was a joy to watch the bears experience nature for the first time. Peggy enjoyed digging in the sand, Carmen liked to trash trees and all Suzy wanted to do was lie peacefully in the woodland.

BearExploring1   BearExploring2

Since then, with the help of our good friend and mentor Else Poulsen, the bears have resumed some of their natural behaviours, including making day beds and hibernating during the winter. At Five Sisters Zoo, they have finally found a happy home!




Sadly, in September 2017 we had to say goodbye to Peggy, one of our beautiful rescue bears. The oldest of the three, Peggy was having difficulty walking and had damage to her spine. Staff had to make the heartbreaking decision to put her to sleep. After what she must have suffered during her time in the circus, we can only hope that she experienced some joy and peace during the last few years of her life.

Bear Blog

September 2012

We are currently trying to source culvert pipes as these will make excellent dens – we will create two dens in the woodland area and two in the holding pen area and see what happens.  From this image of Carmen’s stomach, we think that the fattening up has begun!

August 2012

The jungle gym is completed and seems to be a bit hit with the bears!  All have explored the platforms eating food up there, enjoying the view and no doubt the surrounding smells.  We’ve added tyres and boomers balls where food is hidden.  Thanks go to the Winton Bear Foundation for kindly paying for boomer balls and a supply of vitamins for them.  Else Poulsen returned for a second visit and was delighted to see both the jungle gym and the improvement of each bear.  All three pace less and are beginning to tolerate each other better.  Of all, Suzy appears to have adjusted to her new home the best and is really acting like a bear!  Carmen is often still immature, shows cub like behaviour some of the time and hence is wary of Suzy and Peggy.  We therefore need to progress things very slowly and not rush any introduction.  Else provided us with a new diet, aimed at the correct weight gain for the bears to induce hibernation…..this would be fantastic is they “denned” up for the first time in their lives!

June & July 2012

Closely following the new husbandry programme, we can see positive signs that the bears are beginning to accept each other and we have had many successful “social” feeds with each bears being in close proximity of each other and not showing any signs of aggression. Work starts on the new jungle gym in the holding pen area and the bears are curious!

We were delighted to welcome renowned Canadian bear expert Else Poulsen to the Zoo, who specialises in bear rehabilitation and husbandry.  Her visit was generously funded by Hauser Bears to whom we are exceptionally grateful.  Else spent the day observing the bears and was delighted to see the first signs of the bears building day beds and the start of an information tree.  She confirmed that the bears were using all of the woodland area, which means its well suited for them.  Else put together a strict husbandry programme for us to follow with the aim of working to de-stress the bears and to get them to socialise with each other.  By saturating the enclosure with lots of food, we hope that the bears will soon realise there is no need show aggressive behaviour as there is more than enough food to go round.  As the bears spend alternative days in the holding pen area, we needed to create more enrichment in their with a jungle gym, logs and boomer balls.  Our ultimate goal is to introduce all three bears to the woodland area and for them to live peacefully together.

May 2012

The bears have been enjoying exploring their new woodland enclosure.  Carmen especially loves snapping branches and seems to be on a mission to destroy the trees – its a new experience for her.  All three bears are very stressed and are showing aggression towards each other.  For this reason we are not introducing the three of them together and for the time being Peggy will remain on her own to allow them to get used to each other.  Remember that these bears have never been able to be bears and not one thing in their circus life would reflect normal bear behaviour.  They don’t know how to socialise as a bear with each other, something that we will work with them on over the coming months.

April 2012

Carmen, Peggy & Suzy arrived at the Zoo around 11.30pm on Thursday 29th March. They were safely unloaded, weighed and moved to each of the three indoor den areas. On Friday morning, the process of introducing them to the inner sanctuary area began, with the press on hand to catch the first glimpse of Peggy as she emerged from the den area for the first time.

The bears need time to recover from their journey, to get to know us and we need to gain their trust.

Both Peggy and Suzy have now been introduced to the beautiful wooded area that will now be their home, Suzy enjoying the freedom of roaming and foraging, again probably for the first time in her life. She has probably not walked more than a few metres in a straight line till now.

For Shirley and Brian and all the staff at the Zoo, the months of hard work and worry about the funding of the enclosure have been rewarded by the sight of these bears settling in, exploring and acting as bears should. Whilst we are still far short of the amount needed, we hope that the increase in visitor numbers will help to pay for the shortfall and that people will continue to support us and help with the on going costs of looking after them.

March 2012


The holding pen area takes shape – mesh fence/scratch panels are put in place and the indoor areas for the bears are well underway, walls up, roof on and keeper doors now in situ.

Bear crates are built to transport them, travel arrangements made, final legal paperwork is sorted out with the Belgian Government and final inspection by the Scottish Government is confirmed to pass the enclosure. £22K still to raise

February 2012


Pump Action donate a fantastic pump for the pond/waterfall.

Groundworks continue in the main wooded site, damaged trees cut down from the storm and confirmation obtained that the enclosure will be the bears quarantine area.

The arrival date is confirmed for the 30th March – still £24,000 to raise.

January 2012

frontdoorsWaterfall for the pond is now in place and the visitor fence is started.

Brick work starts on the holding pen area. £50K mark is reached.

December 2011

TarmacConcrete foundations for the holding pen area are laid, channels dug for the electric cables and water supply needed from main zoo.

Joanna Lumley shows support for the appeal and donates.

November 2011

newmeshfence2Electric fence starts to take shape and the new perimeter fence for the Zoo is started.

Map Plant Installation confirm they will fabricate the huge amount of metal work required within the holding pen area.

October 2011

firstpostsinWork begins on the main perimeter fence and Front Line Construction confirm that they will help by digging out the pond area and laying the foundations in the holding pen.

Shirley visits Belgium to meet the bears for the first time and returns even more determined to bring them to the Zoo as soon as possible. Kate Ford visits the Zoo on one of our open days

September 2011

clearingSite clearance begins, donations start to come in and we start planning a number of fundraising events including a visit from Josie Gibson.

TarmacTarmac confirm they are willing to help and donate tonnes of hardcore for the paths that are being laid and stones for the waterfall. Buildbase confirm their donation of concrete blocks for the holding pen area.

August 2011

Daily Record article kick starts our appeal and the fund raising begins (£3000 is already in the fund from donation tins at the Zoo and previous sponsored events).

The target is £80,000 Local shops and businesses agree to take donation tins and put up posters. Companies are contacted to see if they would be willing to donate materials.

June & July 2011

Bearenclosure2Discussions take place with Specialist Wildlife Services about the Zoo providing a permanent home for Carmen, Peggy & Suzy.

A two acre wooded area at the top of the Zoo is identified as being a perfect site for the new enclosure and confirmation is received from Belgium that the bears can be released and moved to Scotland when the enclosure is complete.


Help Save the Bears

We estimate that we initially need to raise around £80,000 to fulfill our ambition of re-homing Suzy, Carmen and Peggy, with any monies raised going directing into the following areas :

  • The transfer of the 3 bears from Belgium to the Zoo;
  • we need a vet to travel with us to be on hand at all times
  • The building of the large enclosure and the materials for it
  • Quarantine fees
  • Dedicated Zoo keeper initially to help the bears settle in and work closely with them

You can donate online by clicking on any of the donation links on the site or you can transfer directly to the Bear Rescue Account using the bank details below:

Bank : Royal Bank of Scotland
Sort code : 832803
Account : 00266061

or you can send us a cheque made payable to : Circus Bear Rescue Fund, to the address : Five Sisters Zoo, Gavieside, West Calder, West Lothian, EH55 8PT

Thank you everyone for your support!