Seemingly distressed bear in Amsterdam Zoo

My GF and I took a short break in Amsterdam for valentines day and while we were there visited the Zoo.

The brown bear (grizzly?) was hiding in a little den in its enclosure, behind a barred window, constantly shaking its head from side to side in a thoroughly pitifull manner which still disturbs me to recall.

Does anyone know anything about this? Is the bear traumatized in some way?

It was bitterly cold on the day we visited, could this, rather than its captivity, have been the problem?


I can’t imagine that the cold would bother a bear. It’s possible that the bear is neurotic. It’s also possible that the bear:

  1. Was listening to keepers doing something or knew it was about time for keepers to do something (like bring food) and was behaving the way my dog does when I put a bunch of suitcases on the back porch, but then dick around for a while before putting the suitcases in the car and driving away.

  2. Has a problem with visitors and stays in its den when people are about, even though there are delicious raisins hidden through the enclosure. If this was the case, it would stop the behavior when there were no visitors in view, and just run out and eat the raisins.

  3. Just does that. Seriously, some animals have idiosyncrasies, just like people.

  4. Something else I can’t imagine without more information. (I wonder if he was just shaking his head - wasn’t he moving his front paws?)

Perhaps someone in who works for an animal welfare org will weigh in with speculations.

It’s called “Stereotypic Behavior”.

While the following cite is about rhesus monkeys, it explains it pretty well and notes that it’s found in many kinds of animals, including bears - and humans.

Thanks for the quick replies.

j.c - It was just before the zoo closed so maybe something like feeding or maintenence of the enclose was about to begin.

We were the only people in its line of sight at the time, though others may have left moments before we arrived. It’s paws were not visible through the opening, nor do I know if it was sitting or standing.

Gelaan - This sounds like it may be the problem, but having only visited once seeing the bear for <5 min I don’t know if this behavior is typical for it.

Has anyone else seen the bear acting like this?


At the San Diego Zoo, they used to keep the Polar Bears in a small enclosure. One of the bears went utterly mad. For hours, she would “waltz” with her front feet: two steps to the left, two steps to the right, and then she’d lift her head and utter a short “squeak.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Later, the Zoo built a much larger, much nicer enclosure, and started paying a lot more attention to “enrichment” activities. Alas, for this one bear, the change was too traumatic, and she continued repetitive behaviors until her death.

When you’re bred for the endless arctic wastes, a few hundred square feet just isn’t enough.


There’s a polar bear at the Denver zoo going 3 steps forward then 3 steps back, for long periods of time.