Susanne Penschke has started working at BEAR SANCTUARY Müritz in 2021. As an animal caretaker, she supports the goal to offer rescued bears a species-appropriate home at the sanctuary. In the interview, she gives us an insight into her daily work with the brown bears.
Can you describe an average day at work?
My work day usually starts in the morning with the so-called fence round: this means walking along the entire inner and outer fence to check that everything is intact. In the morning, we also prepare the honey rolls with the medicine for the individual bears. The food that was prepared at the lecture is taken to the bears and is fed. Depending on how much time we have, we go into the enclosures, tidy up, and hide and distribute the food. After that, of course, we have to clean up the feeding boxes and the feeding kitchen.
Then in the afternoon, we start preparing the food for the next day. Often, training (for medical examinations and feeding) is also on the agenda. My job is to train the bears Ida and Otto, but I'm still at the very beginning because the two bears have not been trained intensively before and it is a slow process. I am currently teaching Ida to accept food from tongs through a grid. Otto will be trained to follow certain commands, such as putting his nose on a special stick to facilitate veterinary examinations.
What’s one thing that makes your job feel special?
Working with animals, especially wild animals makes my job so special. This has always been a dream of mine. Bears are impressive animals.
What’s the most unusual experience you’ve had working at the sanctuary?
The search for Sindi, the brown bear inside her enclosure was very exciting and special. We had big storm damage here at the sanctuary, which also damaged the fence at Sindi’s enclosure. In order to repair the fence, we had to coax Sindi out of her winter den and into the bear house. This was very intriguing for me, as it is not part of the everyday business that you go into an enclosure to look for a bear. I wasn't in the enclosure myself, but it was very interesting. During that time, neither Sindi nor the employees were in danger.
What is one of your favourite things about working in the sanctuary?
I love working with our bears, of course. In addition, I enjoy it to go out with our buggies or even with our big tractor to carry food or new built enrichment to the enclosures.
What is one of the most challenging aspects of working with animals/working with the sanctuary?
The most challenging part for me is to always make sure, together with my colleagues, that the fences, especially the electric fences, work properly. This is very important, and we put a lot of effort and work into it. After all, safety for everyone is the top priority at the sanctuary.
It is also demanding to come up with new enrichment for the bears. Some bears are very, very smart, and to come up with new and exciting things for them all the time is fun, but often tricky. For example, it's not easy to find a suitable activity for Ida. She usually figures out pretty quickly how to get to the food that is hidden in the enrichment. Just now, we managed to find an enrichment that really puts her to the test and keeps her occupied for longer.
Do you have a favourite animal at the sanctuary? If so, why?
I actually have two favourite bears: Otto and Ida. I like the way Otto roams around his big enclosure. His demeanour is relaxed and balanced, I love that. Ida reminds me a little of myself: she has a mind of her own, and I think the two of us have a special connection. When I walk through the sanctuary, she follows me along the enclosure fence. But maybe that's just because of the food.
How has your work at the sanctuary changed your life and impacted your family/friends/community?
I have grown up in the area. The job at BEAR SANCTUARY Müritz was my first step into professional life. I had to take on responsibility, but I also had to cope with things that were new to me, such as organising guided tours for guests or standing in front of a television camera when reports about our sanctuary were filmed.
What do you like to do outside of work? What do you feel passionate about?
When I have a lot of free time, I like to go to the Baltic Sea and meet up with friends. But I'm also often at home with my parents, helping in the garden. That's a lot of fun for me.
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