Saturday, October 14, 2017

Young Lovebirds at the Buffalo Zoo

Sakari in his great new home

Luna, born and raised at the Buffalo Zoo

Luna and Sakari, the young polar bear couple at the Buffalo Zoo, had very different starts in life. And now they are together in the brand new Arctic Edge exhibit, and seem very excited about each other.

Luna from the backside, Sakari across the way,
 in the large new polar bear home at the Buffalo Zoo

Both will be five years old in November.

Luna at the Arctic Edge pool
 Luna was born in secret at the Buffalo Zoo. Her mother Anana was not interested in taking care of her new daughter, so one of the keepers took the newborn cub home to bottle feed her and raise her secretly.

Luna is very round and fluffy, like her mother Anana

Shortly before Luna's birth, her father Nanuq left the Buffalo Zoo to live at the Columbus Zoo. Soon after Luna's birth, Anana was shipped off to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. It seemed as if there were no polar bears left at the Buffalo Zoo, just when the zoo was beginning its push to tear down the old bear pits built in the 1890s and build a new $14 million 35,000 square foot state of the art polar bear home called Arctic Edge.

One of the old 1890s Buffalo Zoo bear pits in a photo from 2013.
 They were torn down and replaced with the magnificent Arctic Edge.

But then surprise! The snowy little cub Luna made her public debut in early March of 2013, along with a campaign called "Keep Our Bears in Buffalo" to raise funds for the Arctic Edge. As a cub, her needs were simple. She didn't need a regular polar bear enclosure. She romped in the snow and played with toys as her keepers kept an eye on her. She was a big hit with the public as she grew and thrived.

Luna as a cub
Luna, so named because she was born under a full moon, was one of only three cubs born in American zoos that year. The other two were twins Suka and Sakari, born in Toledo.
Luna and Kali playing in Buffalo

In May, Luna was joined by a rescued orphaned cub from Alaska named Kali. Luna had now had a real play mate! She and Kali lived together in a small enclosure near the zebras. They had a pool and lots of toys. People were lined up to see this cute little pair. As they grew, the pair needed more space and the new polar bear habitat at the Buffalo Zoo was not even started yet, so the cubs were moved to one of the tiger enclosures, where they alternated with the tigers, day and night. Construction on Arctic Edge started in March of 2014.

Luna loves the mud pile by her pool
 In the summer of 2015, Kali moved to a new polar bear habitat at the St. Louis Zoo. Soon after, Luna's mother Anana returned from Chicago, just in time for the opening of the Arctic Edge in September of 2015, where she stayed until November of 2016. Anana is now living at the Cincinnati Zoo. Although she has lived in many different habitats at the Buffalo Zoo, Luna has never left the care of the Buffalo Zoo staff.

Entrance to the Arctic Edge, home of polar bears, American Bald Eagles, Arctic Foxes and an elusive Lynx.

Fluffy Luna

There are plenty of landscaping features in the polar bear home to make life interesting

Luna on a rock

Luna between the rocks
 Sakari has a very different story. He and his sister Suka were born to an experienced mother, Crystal, at the Toledo Zoo. She took very good care of her cubs, and they had each other to play with too.

Crystal with Suka and Sakari

Suka and Sakari as little cubs

Sakari and Suka in Toledo, ready to leave home
When they were nearly two years old, the twins moved to the Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they shared the habitat with good natured brothers Neil and Buzz. In the summer of 2015, Suka and Sakari  moved to the brand new large and grassy Arctic Passage at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison Wisconsin. 

Suka and Sakari in Madison
Brother Sakari and Sister Suka had much fun playing and swimming. Sakari especially was growing up fast, is is a very big boy now. Last November, on the same day that Luna's mother moved to Cincinnati, Berit, the female bear in Cincinnati, moved up to Wisconsin to be Suka's companion, and Sakari moved to Buffalo to be with Luna.

Sakari and his stick
 The young bears seemed to hit it off right away. While they usually play apart, very often they interact and play. Here is a video of Sakari and Luna playing in the water in one of their huge saltwater pools. 

Luna enjoys it up to a point, and then she runs away.

There is  a giant picture window

Sakari has lots of room to roam

 The Arctic Edge has two large grassy areas with varied landscape, and a large saltwater pool in each.  At this time, both bears have access to both places, which are connected by tunnels with glass walls so we can see them as they go from one side to another. If cubs come along, the enclosures can be separated easily by closing the tunnels. Visitors enjoy the huge windows on the spacious bear yards.
A view of the underground connecting tunnels

Luna enters the underground tunnel connecting the two habitats
So for now, Luna and Sakari are just enjoying their fabulous home and each other. They are young. There is plenty of time to have cubs.

Sakari and Luna play in the water

Luna enjoys playing with the children through the glass too. The kids love it!


Sakari shaking it off!

Stepping over the log is good exercise for Sakari

A favorite stick for Sakari

The best toys are simple

More fun with the stick

Sakari roaming around

Friday, October 13, 2017

Water fun with Amelia Gray and her mom

Amelia Gray underwater

I stopped in for a quick visit with Anana and her 10 month old daughter Amelia Gray at the Columbus Zoo on September 20. Anana's sister Aurora has twins, Nuniq and Neva, and the two families rotate days in the public enclosure. These are the only cubs born in a US zoo this year. The family which behind the scenes still has a roomy, private outside enclosure with a pool.

Kisses for Mother Anana

Anana and Amelia
 On the day I was passing through, it happened to be Amelia Gray's day to be in the public eye.

Amelia is a happy little cub
 I was told that She weighed 250 pounds. Her cousin/brother Nuniq weighed 308 pounds, and Nuniq's sister Neva is a little one, only 200 pounds at nearly 10 months.

Amelia Gray paddles by

The underwater viewing area at the Columbus Zoo is amazing, and Amelia seems to know she is showing off for her fans.

She is aware of the children watching her

Sassy Amelia Gray

Up, up, up for Amelia

Amelia was busy chasing fish, and I was told that she actually caught one that morning.

Amelia playing with mom's favorite barrel

Resting for a moment

Amelia with her mom

Amelia often plays on her own, with her mother watching at a distance.
She is very independent.

Amelia Gray is named for the gray patch on her shoulder,
 which I have not noticed

Mom Anana loves the big blue barrel and she has discovered that rubbing her mouth on it makes loud noises, and she loves that. It is also fun to jump on the barrel. Amelia just watches her mother play sometimes.

Click on link for video of the Big Blue Barrel

Anana playing music on the big blue barrel. See video above

Amelia is quite aware of her visitors, and often swims over to say hello.

Saying hi!
Looking for a playmate!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lazy summer days with Kali

Kali observes the world
Kali of the Saint Louis Zoo is a giant among polar bears, even though he isn't quite yet five years old yet. So he is still growing, and already weighs 1300 pounds.

Kali at maybe 8 months old

He wasn't always so big, though. Sometime in the winter of 2012-13, Kali was born to a very large wild bear mother in Northern Alaska. in the middle of March, she ventured out to look for food. Her size led a hunter to think that she was a male polar bear, so he shot her. The native hunter soon realized that she was a nursing mother, so followed her tracks back to the snowy den where tiny 18 pound Kali was waiting for his mom to return. The hunter wrapped the cub up in some warm ski pants, and whisked him off on his snowmobile to Anchorage, and the safety of the Alaska Zoo. There Baby Kali was cared for by experienced keepers who had not long before cared for another lost cub, Qannik.

Baby Kali roams around the Buffalo enclosure

After two months at the Alaska Zoo, Kali was flown to the Buffalo Zoo where he would gain a playmate of the same age, little Luna, who had been rejected by her mother Anana and raised by keepers. It would be good for both of the cubs to have someone to play with. At that time, Kali weighed 65 pounds. Luna weighed a little more, but that soon changed. Kali grew at a fast pace and soon passed Luna.

Kali and Luna play
Kali had experienced some trauma in his young life. Even though he had Luna to play with in Buffalo, he missed his mother, and developed a paw sucking habit to comfort himself, while making a loud motor purring noise.

Click on the video below to see Kali sucking on his paw.

Video of young Kali sucking on his paw

Luna and Kali

Luna and Kali stayed together for two years. During that time, the Buffalo Zoo was undertaking a huge project to replace the outmoded bear pits with a state of the art polar bear exhibit. Luna's parents had moved to other zoos. Luna and Kali, as cubs, had lesser requirements than adults, so spent a lot of time in a fenced in area with a small pool and lots of toys, and then were later moved to the tiger enclosure, where they alternated with the cats.

Playmates teach each other important lessons

Kali and Luna

Luna and Kali

Luna has the toy that Kali wants

Young Kali was shaggier than little Luna.

They played endlessly, for hours and hours
 For a time, the two playmates were separated when Luna fell and broke bones in her leg. By that time, Kali had gained more confidence and could play by himself. Luna was kept inside for months, recovering.

Kali at the window

Kali in Buffalo, shortly after he arrived

Kali moved to Saint Louis in May of 2015, weighing 850 pounds. McDonnell Polar Bear Point, a 40,000 square foot $16 million polar bear exhibit opened in June, with Kali as the only star. 

Shortly after Kali left, in September of 2015, the new Buffalo enclosure, Arctic Edge, opened with Luna present, and her mother Anana, who had just returned from a stay in Brookfield Zoo.

Kali one month ago, chewing on branches

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Kali was getting to know his enclosure, and making many new friends. His home has several pools, a sandpit for digging, an ice machine and ice pit for cooling off, grassy areas, different levels of terrain, and much to entertain a young bear.

In Saint Louis, Kali has an ice maker and and ice pond

Ice to keep cool on a hot day

Kali notices people at the window
He is now almost five years old, and while he doesn't suck his paw, he still sucks his tongue in the same manner to comfort himself. Click on the video to see how he does this.

Video: Kali still sucks on his tongue

Kali dives with the bamboo in his pool


Love those crunchy leaves

Kali smelling the leaves

Crunching them up

On the day I visited, the keepers had cut some branches to entertain him. He nibbled on the bamboo and played with the other branches. Click on the video to see more.

Video: Kali and the bamboo branches

Kali's noble profile. He has a very large head.

Swimming on a hot August day

Still playing with the branches
It was a very warm day, but still Kali loves to sleep in the sun. The heat does not bother this boy.
Nap time on the upper shelf by the window. 

He weighs in at 1300 pounds. His head is huge. I think he is the largest polar bear I have seen in a U.S. zoo, and he is still growing. And yet, there is something of a baby about him, something vulnerable about this bear who had such a rocky start in life.