After eight months away from her Zoo Boise exhibit, Paji the sloth bear returned to a newly renovated pen this morning, in anticipation of the public's first glimpse Friday. Sitting in a corner near the feeding area, Paji scratched her large back against bamboo serving as part of the exhibit's new decorations.
"Paji is actually Hindi for mischief," said Liz Littman, Zoo Boise director of development and communications. "She's definitely a very curious bear."
Just then, a staffer began feeding the lumbering bear a snack. Paji formed her lips into a circle, sucking the food through a PVC pipe like a straw.
The so-called "blue city" of Jodhpur, India, serves as the backdrop of the $500,000 renovation, bringing some of Paji's homeland to her upgraded Boise digs. In addition to aesthetic upgrades, the available space has been tripled, with more pen space allowing for a second, male bear.
"That could potentially mean some breeding," said Littman. "They actually carry their kids on their backs. It's very cute."
Should the zoo obtain a male and begin breeding, they would join the ranks of cities like Seattle, and become one of a small number keeping the endangered species from its end. While Paji has been raised in captivity, sloth bears have historically been taken from their habitat for use as entertainment.
"They would put a hole through their nose, and sling a rope through it," said Littman. "They would pull on the rope to get them to dance, just from the sheer pain."
Zoo Boise has dedicated a $50,000 grant to a program that helps the Indian government train police officers to catch and prosecute wildlife poachers.
The new exhibit features viewing windows for small tykes, who can participate in the feeding experience. Grubs are dropped through a PVC pipe that feeds into the pen.
There, between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., the first 25 registrants can feed Paji for $3. The exhibit reopens to the public Friday morning.