In June, British wildlife conservation charity, Wildwood Escot welcomed two Eurasian brown bear cubs to a brand new and purpose-built enclosure at its park, near Ottery St Mary.
The orphaned cubs, named Mish and Lucy, who are unable to return to the wild, were rescued from certain death in the Albanian mountains in 2019. Initially, the siblings were held in a temporary enclosure in Belgium, but they needed lots of enrichment and an environment that would be conducive to develop proper bear behaviour.

Exmouth Journal: It's possible to get up close to the bearsIt's possible to get up close to the bears (Image: Archant)

The pair needed space to explore, play and learn to forage naturally and the organic environment that the Wildwood Trust provides, along with its successful rehabilitation of two brown bears, Fluff and Scruff, who were rescued in Bulgaria six years ago, made the Ottery St Mary park an undisputed choice of home for the orphaned cubs.
After a temporary stay at the Trust’s sister park in Kent earlier this year, Mish and Lucy were safely transported to their permanent woodland sanctuary at the East Devon park in June.

Exmouth Journal: Keeper, Ben feeds Lucy at the fenceKeeper, Ben feeds Lucy at the fence (Image: Archant)

Two months on, the pair are settling in nicely to their new homely environment and are enjoying plenty of enrichment. While the finishing touches are being added to their custom-built acre-and-a-half forever home in the park, the bears have taken residence in a temporary enclosure in the meantime.
Now, visitors have the option to book a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and learn all about the rescued bears and take an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour on a special 'Bear Experience'.
The close encounter with the bears is part of Wildwood Escot's expanding portfolio of visitor experiences that also include red squirrels, wolves and an Arctic Fox.

Exmouth Journal: Keeper, Tanith with MishKeeper, Tanith with Mish (Image: Archant)

Curious to learn more about Escot's newest residents we visited the woodland park for our own 'Bear Experience'.
We were safely chaperoned around park and bear enclosure by keepers Ben Gregory and Tanith Meyer, whose genuine passion for the animals was certainly infectious. Their wealth of knowledge about the bears' welfare, behaviour patterns and the different types of enrichment they require, made the visit incredibly engaging and
educational. Ben's and Tanith's vast understanding of the bears adds an extra level of interest to the experience and we felt enthused and better informed.

Exmouth Journal: Lucy crouched down to take her food from meLucy crouched down to take her food from me (Image: Archant)

The visit started with a feeding encounter at the fence, where we were given a bowl filled with monkey nuts and dog biscuits, which we carefully hand fed to the bears through the fence. We were surprised at how gently the bears took the food from us. There was no aggression or grabbing at all. In fact, Lucy was crouching down to take food from me - it was as though she had an awareness of not coming across as too intimidating.

Exmouth Journal: We hand-fed the bears with monkey nuts and dog biscuitsWe hand-fed the bears with monkey nuts and dog biscuits (Image: Archant)

Afterwards, when the bears were securely locked up in their hut, we were able to scatter food across their enclosure. This forms part of their enrichment and makes finding food fun for the furry cubs. Ben and Tanith encouraged us to hide their food, which comprised of seasonal vegetables and dog biscuits, on the climbing frame, under logs and even in the pool. Once we had finished scattering the food we stepped out of the enclosure to watch the bears explore and hunt for the food from the other side of the fence.
The bears were certainly endearing, their appearance is cute and cuddly but we were reminded of their raw strength, speed and agility. At two and half years, Lucy and Mish are still cubs, but when they are fully grown at around the age of five or six, they will be three times the size in weight and up to nine feet tall.

Exmouth Journal: We scattered vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and lettuce around the bear enclosureWe scattered vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and lettuce around the bear enclosure (Image: Archant)

In the next few months, Mish and Lucy will move to their vast new sanctuary, equivalent in size to around one and half football fields. This lifelong habitat has been designed with enrichment in mind, where the siblings will have trees to climb, earth dens to dig, fallen trees to scramble across, rope challenges to master, toys to play with, and exciting daily food treasure hunts to enjoy.
Speaking about the new arrivals, Wildwood Escot general manager George Hyde said: “We couldn’t be happier to have Mish and Lucy here after all this time. We’re also really excited to be able to give visitors a chance to see the bears up close and learn all about them."

Exmouth Journal: Mish and Lucy are two and half years oldMish and Lucy are two and half years old (Image: Archant)

All the money raised from the Bear Experience will go directly towards the bears' welfare. Currently the park is in the process of raising £250,000 to help pay for the bears' new forever home.

To visit Mish and Lucy at Wildwood Escot, head to Visitors will need to pre-book for Bear experiences.