Given a choice, captive bears mimic mixed diets of their wild peers.

Bears are not cats or dogs, and feeding them like they are likely shortens their lives.

A new study in Scientific Reports on the diets of giant pandas and sloth bears adds more evidence that bears are omnivores like humans and need a lot less protein than they are typically fed in zoos.

Charles Robbins.

“Bears are not carnivores in the strictest sense like a cat where they consume a high-protein diet,” said lead author Charles Robbins, a Washington State University wildlife biology professor. “In zoos forever, whether it’s polar bears, brown bears or sloth bears, the recommendation has been to feed them as if they are high-protein carnivores. When you do that, you kill them slowly.”

In separate experiments, researchers presented captive giant pandas and sloth bears at different U.S. zoos with unlimited food of different types to see their preferences and then recorded the nutritional profiles of their choices.

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