While it may not feel like spring outside in Montreal, the black bears at the Ecomuseum Zoo are signalling the start of warmer weather to come.
On Thursday, the zoo's two black bears, Genie and Juno, stepped out of their dens and went outside to play.
"The message is very clear: spring has come," said David Rodrigue, executive director of the Ecomuseum Zoo in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.
"It's always a celebration for everybody here who is dedicated to the animals under our care but to the public as well," he said. "It just so happens that they're never wrong."
"Typically, when they do come out, we know that spring is settling in, in the sense that we won't get drastic cold or large snow accumulations."
'Spot on every time'
Rodrigue said the bears wake up and come out from their den after picking up various cues from their surroundings, including the amount of daylight, the temperature and the barometric pressure.
One year, the bears emerged as early as March 6. Another year, they woke up as late as April 18.
"They were spot on every time."
The bears wake up and gradually become active in their den until staff at the Ecomuseum notice they are ready to go outdoors.
"Our animal keepers are quite in tune, so we don't force them in or out. They really let us know when they're ready to come out.… We had treats for them, which they gladly took, and the two of them started playing together."
Juno the 'miracle bear'
The Ecomuseum has had black bears for decades. Juno and Genie, females who are five and six years old respectively, joined the zoo in 2014.
"Juno is our miracle bear," Rodrigue told CBC's Homerun, explaining that she'd been rescued by wildlife officers in Manitoba.
"She had basically been abandoned for a year, at least, by the mother. She was ill and had almost no hair."
After a zoo in Manitoba nursed her to a full recovery, Juno was transferred to the Ecomuseum Zoo in Montreal.
"She's a smaller bear than you would expect but otherwise perfectly healthy," Rodrigue said.
Genie was born under professional human care at the Zoo Sauvage de St-Félicien. Since she would not survive on her own in the wild, she was given to the Ecomuseum.
"They have quite interesting personalities, so it makes it very easy for them to connect with people."