Thursday, April 25, 2019

Happy World Penguin Day

Northern Rockhopper Penguin at the Edinburgh Zoo
 In honor of World Penguin Penguin Day, here is a little bit about my visit to Edinburgh Zoo, in Scotland, the first zoo in the world to host and breed penguins.

Penguin Rock in Edinburgh. the largest penguin pool in Europe

Some of the zoos first animals were four King Penguins, a Gentoo Penguin and a Macaroni Penguin,  who arrived in 1914, after a 7000 mile journey, the first penguins seen anywhere in the world outside of the South Atlantic, their home.

King Penguins at the Edinburgh Zoo

The Edinburgh Zoo, formerly the Scottish National Zoological Park, welcomed the first King Penguin hatchling in 1919, the first penguin hatched in a zoo anywhere in the world. It was a fairly new zoo at the time, opened to the public in 1913.

A Northern Rockhopper Penguin

The first Macaroni Chick hatched at the Zoo in 1935. Macaroni penguins look a lot like Rockhoppers.

Gentoo Penguins at feeding time

In 1937, the first Gentoo chick made its appearance.

A view of one small part of the Penguin Pool
The Penguin Pool, now known as Penguin Rock, was originally built in 1930, and expanded in 1990.

King Penguins in Edinburgh have a very large area

In 2013 it reopened after further improvements, and the penguins returned from their vacations in England, Ireland and Denmark. It is the largest Penguin pool in Europe, holding 1.2 million liters of water.

Penguins of Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo now hosts three kinds of penguins: King, Northern Rockhopper and Gentoo.
Gentoo Penguins at the Edinburgh Zoo Penguin Parade

Since 1951, the penguins have participated in a daily parade. The legend is that the inaugural parade was an accident, after a keeper left a gate open and the penguins followed, to the delight of the zoo visitors.

Out for a stroll in Scotland
It is completely on a voluntary basis, on the part of the penguins. Whoever of the penguins wants to march that day is welcome to join the fun, accompanied by the keepers, as the parade audience stays behind the perimeter markings. 

The crowds gather for the 2:15 p.m. parade every day

Sometimes there are many penguins out strolling with the keepers, and some days it is only a few.

The Penguin on the right has Leucism. 

A rare genetic mutation at the zoo some years ago resulted in a penguin with a beautiful muted silver tone of feathers. There are several of these leucistic Gentoo Penguins in Edinburgh. 

There are several of the rare Leucistic Penguins in Edinburgh

Leucism occurs in the various species of Penguins in the wild, but they often don't live to adulthood, and are ostracized by the other penguins. In Edinburgh, however, the silver  penguins are treated just the same by the other penguins. In fact the silvery penguin named Snowflake is a particular favorite among the other birds, and seems to always have a companion nearby, the keepers say.

Feeding time for the Gentoos

Down the hatch. A Gentoo Penguin gets some lunch from the keeper.

A Scottish sea gull seems to lecture the penguins

The general consensus is that there are 17 distinct species of Penguins in the world, although several resemble each other, and there are some sub species. The smallest type is the Little (Blue) Penguin, which weighs a barely two pounds, and the largest is the Emperor Penguin, who stands four feet tall.

Humboldt Penguins in Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The Penguin Feedings are a popular event at the zoo.

Some of them, such as the Emperor and King Penguins, live in the icy blasts of Antarctica, but other species make their homes on warmer shores, but all in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Penguins living in the Antarctic are being especially threatened by climate change, as their formerly stable breeding grounds on the ice shelf melt and fall into the sea.

King Penguins out for a stroll at the Cincinnati Zoo. These Penguin Parades take place in January and February on certain days when the temperature remains below 50 degrees F, and are totally voluntary on the part of the Cincinnati Zoo Penguins. 

Little (Blue) Penguins, molting their feathers, at the Cincinnati Zoo

 While Penguins and Polar Bears are often housed near each other in zoos, and are often featured together on flannel pajamas and in TV commercials, they would never meet in the wild. Polar Bears live at the very Northern top of the world, and Penguins all live in the Southern Hemisphere, some very near the South Pole.

Three Magellanic Penguin chicks, not resembling their parents much, at the Point Defiance Zoo in Seattle.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Farewell to Nuuk - Nordman

 We have lost dear Nuuk, who was originally named Nordman when he was born in Sweden.

Skandinavisk Dyrepark in Kolind Denmark posted yesterday that Nuuk had died sometime this winter, possibly related to a flu-like illness. He was 25, a senior bear.

 He will be greatly missed by his dear friend and constant companion Nanok. Except during breeding season, when Nanok was with Nuuk's twin sister Ilka, the two male bears were almost always together.

The park had some wistful parting words on the loss of Nuuk, saying that "Nuuk always had his own opinion about the course of things. The rest of the polar bear residents had great respect for Nuuk, and it was not something he needed to enforce. They moved completely by themselves when he came walking. Nuuk will definitely be missed."

 Long before Nuuk was born, Kolmarden Zoo in Sweden had opened in 1965.  The polar bear habitat opened in 1968, at the time one of the largest in the world with six polar bears. 

Twins Nordman and Ilka were born December 2, 1993 in Kolmarden. Their father was Imarec, and their mother was C.W., an American-born bear.

Nuuk's brother, the late Manasse, who lived in Ranua Finland, was father of Ranzo and Sisu. Nuuk was also brother to the late Yukihime of Yokohama; and Baffin who lives with daughter Momo in Hamamatsu Zoo. Through his father Imarec, Nuuk was half brother to Marissa in Italy, and the famous actress polar bear Agee in Canada.

And of course through his sister Ilka, Nuuk was uncle to Siku, Nuno and Nanu.

Nanok left, Nuuk right
 Nuuk's mother C.W. and her twin brother Elvis were born in the Memphis Zoo  in Tennessee, USA, and were brought to Europe when they were just a year old. Since Elvis had a musical name, my guess is that the initials C.W. might mean Country Western. The late Elvis became the father of the Osnabruck hybrid bears Tips and Taps. Taps still survives and lives in that same German zoo.

In 1998, 5 year old wildborn cub Huggies came from Ouwehands Zoo, Rhenen, the Netherlands, to Kolmarden. Huggies became acquainted with handsome young Nordman, as he was called at the time. The result was a beautiful cub, Freedom, born December 1, 2001,  When baby Freedom was just three months old, Huggies and the cub returned to the brand new polar bear exhibit at Ouwehands.

Nuuk's daughter Freedom and her cubs in Ouwehands

In January of 2006, 12  year old twins Nordman and Ilka moved from Kolmarden, and at the same time, four year old Nanok, born in Belgium, came from Ouwehands to Skandinavisk Dyrepark. The three were the new park's first polar bear residents, finding themselves in a spacious and natural polar bear paradise.

The bridge over the lake at Skandinavisk Dyrepark

Skandinavisk Dyrepark is unlike any other zoo. The visitors can watch the bears romp and play in huge meadows and a magnificent meandering wooden footbridge provides a close but safe vantage point to view the big furry residents as they swim in the lake.

Nanok in water, Nuuk on land

In Denmark, Nordman was renamed Nuuk. It seems that someone decided Nuuk's breeding days were over so he was neutered, maybe so the boy bears would get along better. 

Young Nanok had been brought to the park from Ouwehands as a mate for Ilka, and as a friend for Nuuk. The boys really hit it off and the relationship continued right up until Nuuk's death.

Ilka in water, Nuuk on land
 Nanok and Ilka have had three cubs, Siku, and twins Nuno (girl) and Nanu (boy). Nanu has moved to the Netherlands, but Siku and Nuno are still in the park, along with Mother Ilka, and a Russian bear named Boris, sometimes called Ivan. With the loss of Nuuk, there are five polar bears in the park.

Through his daughter Freedom, Nuuk left quite a legacy as  grandfather to Sprinter (now in Hanover), Sesi (in Mulhouse France), Taiko (in France), Akiak (in Rostock) and Sura (still in Ouwehands), and great grandfather to Miss Nanuk in Mulhouse.


Since Nuuk's mother C.W. was born in Memphis, Nuuk was related to some of our American bears. C.W.'s half sister, born in Memphis, was Chinook, later of Salt Lake City's Hogle Zoo.  Chinook was mother of the late Aurora of Rochester, Anana currently of Cincinnati, and Kiska and Koluk of Albuquerque. Nuuk's aunt Chinook is also grandmother to Luna (Buffalo), Anoki (Rochester), Lee (Columbus), Anana (North Carolina) and Hayley (Memphis).

Nuuk's aunt Chinook was also mother of Denali, born in the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, who now lives in Japan. Denali is quite the favorite at the Sapporo Zoo and the father of eight cubs.  

It's sad to say goodbye to such a lovely bear. He had a good long life in a beautiful place, and had the companionship of his best friend all those years. He will be missed by so many, especially his pal Nanok. 
Farewell, Nuuk.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A San Diego Friendship

Tatqiq is ready for the training demonstration. She opens her mouth for inspection, presents her paws and ears, all while getting yummy treats.. 

Today is International Polar Bear Day for 2019. I would like to share some of my visit earlier this week to the wonderful San Diego Zoo and the three polar bears who live there.

Chinook, who is dirty from rolling in the mulch, is on the left
and Tatqiq is on the right, much cleaner.

Chinook born in 1995 in Manitoba and orphaned when she was about a year old. She became a garbage bear and could have been shot, but was rescued and brought to San Diego. She is now 23 years old, and has never had cubs.

Chinook and Tatqiq on the land, Kalluk in the water
Big male Kalluk and his twin sister Tatqiq were born in Alaska in 2000. Their mother wore a radio collar as a study bear, and when her signal did not move for a period of time, researchers went looking for her and found the three month old twins alone in the den. The cubs came to the Polar Plunge at the San Diego Zoo  They are now 18 years old. Kalluk is mate to Chinook, and Tatqiq has been her brother's  playmate all his life. When the twins were cubs, a book was written about their rescue, called "A Pair of Polar Bears."

As Kalluk is unrelated to any of the other U.S. zoo bears, I would think he would be considered for a move to another zoo, to be matched up with a bear that might be fertile. Chinook, obviously will not have cubs. Tatqiq, his sister, has been on birth control and as such will never have cubs either.

Chinook on the left, Tatqiq on the right, and a snowy egret in the middle

The ladies' friendship has changed lately. In the past, Chinook was always the dominant bear, and Tatqiq would back off when Chinook was calling the shots. Tatqiq would sometimes be put in a separate area, to keep the peace, especially during mating season when Kalluk would want to spend more time with Chinook.

Chinook, the dirty bear on the left. Tatqiq plays with the gunny sack

She has never been pregnant, but Chinook has always gone through the hormonal cycle at this time of year. Kalluk and Chinook would pair off in January, February and March. This year, however, the hormonal cycle seems to have stopped, and Chinook is not interested in mating. This leaves the big male bear with some frustrations, and he spends a lot of time swimming in the big pool, back and forth in repetitive  laps.

The girls spend their time together, playing and sometimes pretending to fight. Surprising the keepers, Tatqiq is now the alpha bear. Previously, Chinook would get first choice of foods and activities, but now Tatqiq is the boss. 

Tatqiq is now the boss
A year ago during the noon keeper talker session, in the photo below, Chinook wandered over to the grid for her snacks and demonstration, and Tatqiq stayed away.

A year ago, Chinook at the training grid

 This year, it was Tatqiq who came over for the special treat. Chinook was still nearby, but she waited for permission from her friend. 

Tatqiq licking at the training grid. 

Chinook hangs back, wanting to come up to the training grid,
but wary of boss Tatqiq

Tatqiq gets a spoonful. Chinook wants some.

The girls half heartedly tussle over the treats

Chinook and Tatqiq are perfectly matched, for they both weigh about 600 pounds. Kalluk weighs about 1100 pounds. The San Diego climate is mild, so the zoo tailors the polar bear diet to keep them at a certain weight. They don't need the extra layer of fat that northern zoo bears might need. The get polar bear chow, canned dog and cat food, lots of fruits and vegetables, and especially lots of carrots.  Sometimes the mid-day snack is given in the form of fruit thrown into the lagoon for diving.

Chinook waits patiently behind Tatqiq, tongue out...

Chinook eases up closer
For the first time since the change in their friendship, on the day I visited, Tatqiq allowed Chinook to come up next to her at the end and have a few spoonfuls of baby food meat. Chinook was reticent, always checking to make sure Tatqiq would not object. The keepers were amazed that both were at the grid together.

Chinook's head gets closer to the grid, in the back

At last, Chinook gets a nibble

Tatqiq, in front, has had enough

Tatqiq then walked away, leaving Chinook to clean up the scraps.

Chinook is still checking, to make sure she is not displeasing her friend

The keepers said the girls get along very well, and speculated that if Kalluk were to leave to breed in another zoo, the girls wouldn't mind at all, and Kalluk, who had always been bonded to his sister, at this point might even welcome the change.
Chinook cleans up the fallen scraps

It has been interesting to see how the family dynamics have shifted over the years. For all their lives, Chinook would have been first at the grid, but now she is the subservient bear. 

Tatqiq walks away, leaving the rest to Chinook. The keepers try to make sure all three bears get their share of treats. You can see old deer antlers on the ground. When the antlers are fresh and smell like deer, the bears are more interested in gnawing. 
Polar Plunge at the San Diego Zoo has always been a paradise for polar bears. About two years ago, the keepers improved the enrichment routine, and now offer four enrichment opportunities each day for the bears, a variety of activities, toys, treats and puzzles to help them keep their minds busy. The keepers plan out these activities long in advance, and there isn't much repetition. 

The keepers wonder if the change in routine, meant to curb stereotypical pacing and swimming, might have brought about the change in dynamics. 

The new ice makers, hanging over the play area for the past year, have been a game changer, providing piles of ice and snow in which to hide treats and toys, and the bears enjoy rolling around in the ice.  Both ice-makers, sadly, are currently broken but are awaiting repair.  Hopefully, they will be back in service soon.

The keepers have added more soft material like mulch for rolling in, and more grassy area. There are large shades overhead too.

Tatqiq with the gunny sack

On the day of my visit, the bears were given gunny sacks with various treats inside. Something to play with, and a puzzle to get to the treats.

At the end of the day, Kalluk is till in the pool

Since the change in routine, the girls rarely engage in any stereotypical behavior, but Kalluk still becomes obsessed with swimming during mating season, as seen in this last photo, taken at the end of the day. He had been swimming all afternoon. This repetitive behavior only happens for a couple of weeks, and then all will be back to normal at Polar Plunge.