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Oh, my! Local scout builds "wonderful" new beds for lions, tigers, and bears


March 11, 2020 | View PDF

Courtesy Photo

Dillan the rescued Asiatic black bear spends a lot of time "chilling" on his fire hose and steel-frame hammock in his new quarters at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is in the business of giving mistreated animals a happily-ever-after, so when Dillan the geriatric bear came to their rehabilitation facility in January, it didn't take long for him to find a place that was not too hard, not too soft, but just right. That's thanks to long time Niwot boy scout Caden Weihe, who planned and fabricated several large animal hammocks for his Eagle Scout service project, and then delivered them to the Keenesburg-based rescue center just in the nick of time.

"As soon as Dillan got here...he was in it," WAS Director of Public Relations Kent Drotar said of the Asiatic's black bear's favorite resting spot. "He came from a horrible place in Pennsylvania. It had concrete for a floor, and very poor drainage, so it had overgrown moss and algae, and it was always wet."

Dillan's affinity for his new bed came as a relief to Weihe, who had dropped the 10' x 10' pieces off only two days before the highly anticipated arrival. The Silver Creek junior had spent many anxious months working on the steel-framed hammocks, and the ailing bear's apparent comfort was the best feedback he could have asked for.

"That's been the most satisfying part-knowing how helpful those beds have been to them," Weihe said. "And how it was almost the perfect time of delivery, so they could immediately put them into use."

Weihe's other hammocks are currently being put through their paces by some of Dillan's new friends at the WAS, a 789-acre wildlife rehabilitation center located approximately 36 miles east of Niwot and Gunbarrel. Home to hundreds of rescued lions, tigers, bears, leopards, and wolves, the 40-year-old WAS is one of the largest carnivore sanctuaries in the world, and is open to the public for tours and educational events.

"That size of hammock was specifically made for our big cats," Drotar said, explaining the benefits of the beds, which are made from recycled fire hoses. "It evens out the pressure a little bit, and has a little more give than the concrete does. Plus the fact that they're up off the ground three or four inches, that helps too.... Right now, there's a lioness using one; Dillan's still using one, even though he's out now getting used to a big habitat with his future roommate; and we have some tigers using one. The animals love them. Caden and the other scouts did such a good job."

Weihe undertook the animal bed project in the summer of 2019, after his mother suggested that the non-profit WAS would be a worthy candidate for the large-scale community service project required to earn scouting's highest rank. He initially worked with WAS staff to come up with basic plans, but procuring supplies and delivering a hammock suitable for a geriatric predator population was up to him.

Weihe first reached out to local fire departments about their old hoses, and eventually got donations from the Boulder, Hygiene, and Longmont fire departments. He found steeply discounted steel tubing at RPJ Energy Enterprises, a structural pipe supplier located in Pierce, Colorado, which also threw in some after-market freebies.

"To fit all the tubing together, you have to do something called 'fishmouthing'," Weihe explained. "For us, that would have been really hard and time-consuming because we'd need to do it with an angle grinder. What was really nice is that they had an industrial strength fishmouth cutter, so they cut the pipes for us."

The longtime scout enlisted the aid of his fellow Niwot Troop 161 members to weave the fire hose webbing and attach it to the frames. He also found help a little closer to home.

"I got help from my dad on calculating things like the tensile strength, because he's a mechanical engineer," Weihe said. "I wanted to make sure that all of the metal tubes would stand up to the force of animals playing on them. So he helped me with some of those more sophisticated calculations."

Drotar and the WAS staff have so far been thrilled with the quality and durability of Weihe's hammocks, and hope to build more in the future using his plans.

"The great thing about Caden's hammocks is how well-made they were," Drotar said. "Sometimes they have a four-by-four wood frame, and that works well for a while, but eventually wood's going to have a tougher time with moisture, and animals can bite and claw at it. These are made out of steel pipe, and they've all been welded and all the edges smoothed down. The frame itself will last basically forever, and occasionally we may have to replace the webbing on it, just like you would a patio chair."

Karen Copperberg

Tigers Fireball and Jevie stand on their fire hose hammock while enjoying some early spring sunshine at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.

Overall, Weihe was pleased with the outcome of his hammock project, but less so with the process in general, which proved time-consuming and stressful. He often found it difficult to keep the work moving forward while trying to balance school work and extracurricular activities such as speech and debate. However, he is grateful for the object lesson in project management, and sees it as another useful scouting skill he can take into the future.

"It did end up taking a lot longer than I thought it would, and planning on my part was a majority of the problem," Weihe said. "I've never managed such a large project before, but I guess that's what the Eagle Scout project is supposed to be about."

For more information about the Wild Animal Sanctuary and its rescued animals, visit wildanimalsanctuary.org. To see photos and videos of Dillan since his rescue, visit their facebook page.


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