Polar Bear

Polar Bear Cub Gets Helping Hand at Columbus Zoo

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Two Polar Bear cubs were born November 6 at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Animal Care staff observed new mom, Aurora, caring for the newborns. However, despite her efforts, only one cub survived. 

Initially, Aurora was caring for her surviving cub, and the Columbus Zoo animal team, in conjunction with recommendations from other Polar Bear breeding facilities, made the decision not to intervene. Polar Bear cubs are difficult to hand rear and disrupting Aurora’s maternal care was not advised.

Unfortunately, last week, the surviving cub was pulled from the den by the Zoo’s Animal Care staff after Aurora stopped caring for it. Aurora began taking breaks from caring for her cub late on the morning of November 19. When these breaks continued throughout the day and became longer, the Zoo’s Animal Care staff made the decision to remove the cub from the den and began to hand-rear the newborn.

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4_Polar Bear Cub 7411 - Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and AquariumPhoto Credits: Grahm S. Jones / Columbus Zoo & Aquarium


At this time, the cub, a female, is healthy and feeding regularly. She weighed in at 1.5 pounds and gained 10 grams soon after Zoo Staff took over. At 2-weeks-old, she is continuing to gain weight, and grows about a half inch every two days. Her nose is turning black and fur is growing on her ears, as well as on the bottom of her paws. Staff will continue to monitor and care for her around-the-clock. The team assesses her daily and makes changes to her routine as need be. They are cautiously optimistic and are pleased with how well she is doing.

Polar Bear reproduction is a very complicated process, which leads to the species having one of the lowest reproductive rates of any mammal. Female Polar Bears generally have their first set of cubs between the ages of four and eight years. Due to delayed implantation, the gestation period can range from about 195 to 265 days. Delayed implantation is a point of time during a Polar Bear’s gestation when a fertilized egg will free-float in the uterus for roughly four months to ensure the cub is born the best time of year for survival.

Pregnant Polar Bears den in the fall and give birth, generally to two cubs, in the winter. The cubs typically weigh about one pound at birth. After birth, the survival rate for a Polar Bear cub during the first few weeks of life is very low due to a number of factors. Some of these factors can be eliminated in a zoo setting though this is still a very delicate time for a newborn.

Polar Bears, much like Giant Pandas, are highly specialized animals that give birth to very small babies, which makes them fragile during their first year of life. Survival rates in human care are around 50%, which is similar to that of wild bears.

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Quick Vet Visit for Zoo Am Meer's Little Polar Bear

Folie2How fast can a veterinary team perform a physical exam on a baby Polar Bear?  At Germany’s Zoo am Meer, it took only four minutes for the staff to examine, vaccinate, determine gender, and weigh a cub and return the baby to her anxious mother.


Folie3Photo Credit:  Zoo Am Meer

The female cub was born on December 16 to first-time mom Valeska, age 9, and father Lloyd, age 13.  Since then, the cub has remained in the den with Valeska, who has proven to be an excellent mother to her cub. 

Zoo staff members describe the cub as playful and energetic.  At her exam, the cub weighed 18 pounds (8.5 kg), and has a lot of growing to do – adult female Polar Bears weigh 400-700 pounds (180-370 kg).  She’ll remain behind the scenes with Valeska until late in April or May.  At that time, she’ll learn how to swim and explore the outdoors.

Polar Bear populations are imperiled by climate change.  Polar Bears require sea ice as a place to stand while searching for passing seals to hunt.  Many Polar Bears are malnourished because their hunting season – which occurs in winter when the sea is filled with ice – becomes shorter every year, preventing them from building fat reserves to survive through the summer, when hunting is not possible.

See more photos of the cub below.

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UPDATE: Polar Bear Twins Visit the Vet

Twin Polar Bears born on December 9 at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo got their first medical checkup last week and were proclaimed in excellent health.

You first met the twins on ZooBorns just a few weeks after they were born to mother Giovanna, age 7, and father Yoghi, age 14.  For the twins’ exam, zoo staff members separated the babies from Giovanna for the first time. 

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Photo Credit:  Munich Zoo Hellabrunn


The zoo’s three veterinarians performed a quick medical checkup.  They weighed the babies, determined their gender, and inserted an identification chip in each cub.  After just five minutes with the vets, the cubs were returned to Giovanna, who conducted her own very detailed inspection of her cubs before allowing them to nurse.

"As I suspected, the twins are a girl and a boy. And quite surprisingly, the girl is considerably stronger, weighing 5.4 kg (12 lb). The darker of the two is the boy, who weighs 4.6 kg (10 lb)," says zoo director Dr. Andreas Knieriem. 

Dr. Christine Gohl is equally impressed: "The polar bear babies are healthy. The chips mean they now also have an 'identity card' and can be properly registered in Hellabrunn Zoo's animal database." 

The two baby polar bears will still be protected by their mother Giovanna in their Arctic-style family home for several weeks to come, without contact with the outside world. They will probably venture outdoors for the first time in late March.  It is not yet known whether father Yoghi will join the family or continue to be separated from them.  Zoo keepers will base their decision on how Giovanna reacts to him.

UPDATE! Toronto Zoo's Polar Bear Cub is Making Strides

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Toronto Zoo's Polar Bear cub is growing up strong and healthy! Born on November 9 to a resident mom, Aurora, the cub was one of three born in the litter. Despite Aurora showing perfect maternal instincts, including nursing the cubs shortly after their birth, the zoo was saddened to discover that two of the three cubs did not survive the first 48 hours. They made the decision to hand raise and carefully monitor the third cub so he would have to best chance of survival. (See our previous update here.)

Since then, the male cub has recovered from low weight and made many developmental milestones. His eyes have been fully open since day 35 and he's already taken his first steps. He is quite active and starting to play. 

The cub now weighs about 9.7 pounds (4 kg), which is a is a 529% increase since his original birth weight.  Although he receives milk from a bottle six times a day, he has recently started to learn how to lap milk from a dish, a transition that eventually will help him learn to eat solid foods.

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4 bearPhoto credit: Toronto Zoo

Watch the cub's first steps:


Watch a bottle-feeding:


Happy bear sounds!


The little cub is beginning to teethe and he likes to bite objects such as his blanket. His canine teeth, incisors and some of his molars can now be felt. He has a few whiskers and his coat is becoming thicker as he continues to grow.

He still remains in a temperature-controlled environment within the Wildlife Health Centre but has been out of his incubator for the past month.  The temperature in his room has been gradually reduced. In fact, an air conditioner has been installed for his comfort. He is a Polar Bear, after all!

See and read more after the fold.

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Hellabrunn Zoo Welcomes Polar Bear Twins

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On December 9, a Polar Bear named Giovanna gave birth to two cubs at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo. Both births were seen on cameras installed in the birthing den and the connecting corridor to the main den. This is remarkable on two counts: for both births, Giovanna positioned herself so that she was directly in the cameras’ field of view. Secondly, this is the first time that a Polar Bear birth has been filmed in color worldwide!

The cubs were born at 08:39 and 09:43 respectively, to parents Giovanna (7) and Yogi (14). The zoo’s director, Dr. Andreas Knieriem, enthused, “It is as if we were there live watching the labour and birth of a Polar Bear and, as if that weren’t enough, Giovanna showed us not one, but two very different births!”

Curator Beatrix Köhler is impressed with the Polar Bear mom’s behavior, saying, "Giovanna is caring for her twins very capably as if she were an experienced mother, but at seven years old, she is actually a first-time mum!”

The cubs are pictured at three weeks old. 

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Photo credit: Hellabrun Zoo

See a video of the little cubs:


Hellabrunn Zoo has shared a timeline of events describing the two remarkable births:

08:37: Giovanna walks down the corridor between the two dens. She bites one of her front paws to counteract the pain of a contraction. Then she moves out of camera view but then takes several steps back into frame.

08:39: View of Giovanna’s back. A polar bear cub slides onto the floor in a very speedy birth. It is about 8 inches (20 cm) long, hairless, smeared in blood, blind and deaf.

09:40: Giovanna pushes her back legs forcefully against the wall and her body shakes as she has a contraction.

09:43: A thin arm, a small head and then another arm come into view. Giovanna gives birth to a second baby. At this point she is so busy with her first born that she doesn’t attend to the second baby immediately. The little one is left to fend for itself for the next few minutes. It wriggles and turns round and is very active.

10:05: Giovanna notices something going on behind her. She turns her head and notices the second baby. She turns round and picks it up carefully in her mouth. Then she leans against the wall and lays it on her leg next to its older sibling.

22:40: The babies now resemble miniature Polar Bears. Giovanna has painstakingly licked them clean over the last few hours so that they are now bright white and dry. They are snuggling into mum’s warm coat and tumbling around on her chest. They’re already drinking her milk.

December 11 2013, two days after the birth: the Polar Bear twins are developing well. Giovanna is taking excellent care of them. They are both regularly drinking her milk. In between, they are tumbling around on mum.

The first weeks in a Polar Bear cub’s life are critical. Caretakers say that Giovanna is acquitting herself admirably, but still complications could arise. She won’t be out and about in the external enclosure with her cubs until March 2014 at the earliest.

UPDATE! Toronto Zoo's Polar Bear Cub Grows Steadily in Intensive Care

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In November we learned that a Polar Bear cub was in the intensive care unit at Toronto Zoo's Wildlife Health Center. The little cub was born at the zoo on November 9th, but was the only one to survive out of a litter of three. 

Almost six weeks later, the cub is growing under the care of exceptional veterinary staff, the wildlife health care team, and keepers, who continue to monitor the little male cub 24 hours a day. As with any new birth, this little cub’s progress continues to be determined on a day-to-day basis. Caretakers ensure that he feeds from a bottle, continues to gain weight at an appropriate rate, avoids infections and continues to digest his formula to receive the nutrients a young cub needs. 

He is currently feeding 9 times a day and growing steadily. The veterinary staff have fondly nicknamed him 'Remy', as he was received into the Wildlife Health Centre on Remembrance Day. 

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3 polar bearPhoto credit: Toronto Zoo

Elvis the Beagle Sniffs Out Pregnant Polar Bears


What do a two-year-old Beagle named Elvis and pregnant Polar Bears have in common?  Scientists at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) have brought them together to detect pregnancy in Polar Bears living in zoos.

Elvis at Work1Photo Credit: Cincinnati Zoo

Traditional pregnancy detection methods like hormone monitoring and ultrasounds don’t work well in Polar Bears.  With climate change threatening wild Polar Bear populations, CREW’s staff is getting creative to help save this important species, and they’ve found a possible helper in Elvis the Beagle. 

Working with professional dog trainer Matt Skogen, CREW is trying to determine if the sensitive noses of canines like Elvis can distinguish a pregnant Polar Bear from a non-pregnant Bear simply by smelling fecal samples.

“This is the first time sniffer dogs have been used in biomedical research as it relates to any wildlife species, making this project truly one-of-a-kind,” said CREW’s Dr. Erin Curry. Currently, Elvis is demonstrating 97% accuracy in positive identification of samples from pregnant females – which is not only incredible but nearly as accurate as over-the-counter human pregnancy tests.

Since January, Matt has used more than 200 training samples collected from Polar Bears of known pregnancy status to help Elvis refine his detection technique. 

Last month, Elvis’s skills were put to the test.  He tested samples from 17 female Polar Bears whose pregnancy status is unknown.  The zoos are eager to know if these females are pregnant so they can monitor these Polar Bears and make preparations.  Pregnant Bears could be isolated with minimal disruption while being closely monitored by camera 24/7 in anticipation of a birth, whereas non-pregnant females would remain swimming and socializing all winter with their exhibitmates.

Read more about Elvis and Polar Bears below the fold.

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UPDATE! Zoo Brno Polar Bears Get Their First Check Up


We first reported on the Polar Bear cubs born at Zoo Brno HERE just last week. The duo have continued to grow and seem to still love harassing their mother Cora as much as ever. 

Recently, the cubs received their first check up. During this routine examination the cubs were given their first round of vaccination as well as identification chips. In addition, veterinarians were able to use the opportunity to sex the cubs. It was determined that Cora had given birth to one male and one female cub. After their brief visit the cubs, who have still yet to receive names, were returned to their mother who was surely happy to be reunited with her offspring. 


Photo credits: Zoo Brno

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Bear Fight!

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Kali sizes up her opponent...

On March 12, an Inuit hunter shot and killed a female Polar Bear near Point Lay, Alaska. When he realized it was a female, he searched for the den and found young Kali, a 3 - 4 month cub. The hunter then carried the cub to the Department of Wildlife Management who then passed the healthy 18.4lb cub to the Alaska Zoo who was equipped to care for the orphan.

Thankfully the cub has so far thrived under the care of keepers and veterinarians, exhibiting the trademark playfulness of his age and species. In these photos, taken by volunteer photographer John Gomes at the Alaska Zoo, the cub takes on a similarly sized opponent. Plans are in the works to relocate the cub to the Buffalo Zoo in New York, which recently welcomed another cub, Luna. 

Kali makes the first move


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Brown Bear gets the upper paw! 

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Exhausted, they agree to disagree

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Photos courtesy of Alaska Zoo / John Gomes

Polar Bears are one of the most recognizable animals threatened by melting polar ice. The Alaska Zoo works with Polar Bears International (PBI) to try to reverse this troubling trend. The Alaska Zoo is a PBI Arctic Ambassador Center, which means they:

* Strive for bear friendly exhibits with enrichment activities to stimulate the bears to be active and content

* Provide leadership for carbon emission reduction in their communities

* Support PBI research projects to help conserve wild polar bears

* Play a key role in the PBI Sustainability Alliance, a front-line team helping to save polar bears in a rapidly warming Arctic

Thanks to Jaymie Wahlen for her help on this post.

Polar Bear Cubs Revealed to Public at Zoo Brno

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Two young Polar Bear cubs have been winning over the crowds at Zoo Brno in the Czech Republic. Although they were born over four months ago on November 24th, the public have just recently been able to catch glimpses of this playful duo, as they have only been on display for the past two weeks. 

The pair, a boy and a girl, were born to mother Cora. She has certainly had her paws full trying to keep a watch on the rambunctious siblings. They are very active and seem to have taken a liking to harassing their mother. They have not yet received names as the zoo is allowing the public to have a say in that decision through a poll on their website. Currently, the name "Nanuk" is in the lead for the little boy, and "Bella" is the lead for his sister. You can make your voice heard in the naming HERE.



Photo credit: Zoo Brno

See many more photos after the fold!

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