News Column

Polar Bear May Get Warm Company

Dec. 5, 2012

Matt Campbell

The question comes almost daily:

Why is Nikita the polar bear all alone? Why don't you get him a girlfriend?

Keepers at the Kansas City Zoo are used to it. Actually, male polar bears are usually solitary in the wild. But soon those questions may cease.

If everything goes well, Kansas City's 6-year-old male will be sharing his $11 million home with a 23-year-old female. There's even room for little ones, should they come along.

The keepers of the species survival plan for polar bears, a protocol that attempts to ensure genetic diversity among captive animals, decided that Nikita's genes and Kansas City's modern exhibit were the best match for Berlin, a female that needs a new home.

She has been living temporarily at a zoo in St. Paul, Minn., after her previous home at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth was flooded this summer.

Kansas City Zoo officials had hoped to wait until everything was certain before announcing her impending arrival. But the St. Paul zoo disclosed the move Tuesday in announcing a combination bear birthday and bon voyage party this weekend.

"We were trying to keep the announcement quiet until we knew that she was good to travel," said Kansas City Zoo Director Randy Wistoff. "It's not 100 percent in the bag yet."

Berlin underwent surgery recently to remove a necrotic mass but she is thought to be doing well. Still, Kansas City Zoo veterinarian Kirk Suedmeyer will go to St. Paul on Thursday to evaluate her. He, Wisthoff and other officials will then decide whether to go ahead with the transfer.

Berlin has already had a traumatic year in addition to the operation. She escaped her exhibit in Duluth when it was overwhelmed by a flash flood in June. Several other animals died, but Berlin was recaptured and sent to St. Paul, where she has shared a space with two neutered males.

Kansas City officials still don't know everything about Berlin's history. But conservationists believe it is possible she and Nikita could reproduce. She is still of breeding age and he is sexually mature.

"Getting polar bears to reproduce is not the easiest thing to do," said Wistoff. "You would assume they are viable but that isn't always the case."

If Berlin does arrive here, it will likely be before Christmas. But the public will not get a look at her immediately. She will spend about a month in quarantine.

There will be a gradual introduction between Berlin and Nikita. It will probably be February or March before Berlin makes her public debut. She and Nikita may end up taking turns in the outdoor exhibit for a while before they share the space and its 140,000-gallon pool of chilled water.

Then zoo visitors will notice how much bigger the young male is. Berlin weighs about 500 pounds and Nikita about twice that.

Berlin may have several years yet to charm the public. Polar bears in captivity have been known to live into their 30s.



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)


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