Friday, November 17, 2023

The Toledo twins at one year

A little watermelon for the cubs

Kallu and Kallik clean up after the party

Kallik and Kallu, twin sons of Crystal and Nuka, were treated to a grand birthday party on November 11 in honor of their first birthday. Mom Crystal turned 25 the previous day, and she was included in the festivities of course.

The cakes before the bears came roaring in. 

Watermelon is the recent favorite treat.

Three bears and a play spool. 

The keepers had built three "birthday cakes" made of watermelon, lettuce, lard and a carrot on top for a candle, each sitting on a block that had been labeled for each bear. Kallik and Kallu's boxes included their nicknames, Lightning and Thunder.  

Some of the birthday cards made by the children.

A good crowd of fans turned out for the party, including many children, and many made cards for the birthday boys. Since the zoo has shown the growth of the cubs since birth on a public webcam, many have followed K and K since those early days, and they have many fans.

Crystal in back, and one of the cubs, probably Kallu,
 who likes to be near mom.

The bears cannot read, or at least did not bother to check the writings, so just went to the nearest cake, and after that, just traded off. 

The birthday party for Crystal and her cubs.

The keepers told me that once a year, they try out different produce for the bears to see if their tastes have changed. Even though these foods are not available in the wild where the bears live in nature, zoos have found that polar bears really love their fruits and vegetables when they can get them. Right now, the Toledo bears prefer watermelon. 

Crystal is also very fond of seaweed, so there were balls of seaweed for her.
Yummy seaweed for Crystal

Some fish were also given to the bears as part of the birthday feast.

Kallu with some of the fish treats.

Kallik was much smaller when he was born, maybe half the size of his brother, but he has caught up since then, and now his weight is reported at 320 to 340 pounds. Kallu, the bigger cub, weighs 340 to 360 pounds.

When they were younger, it was easier to tell Kallik from his bigger brother, but now they are nearly the same size. How to tell them apart? Kallu has a longer tail, and there is less fur on his tail so the black skin shows through. Kallu sometimes has a spot on his forehead too. 

Because Kallu has less fur on his tail,
 there seems to be a black streak. One way to tell them apart.

During their first year, Kallu has tended to stay near his mother, while the smaller Kallik has been more independent. But on Saturday, while the boys did play together in the water for a bit, and Kallu tended to check in with his mother quite often, mostly they were off on their own, each doing their own thing, after consuming most of the birthday treats, leaving Crystal to do as she wished, sometimes napping, sometimes just watching the boys play.

Kallu plays with the pickle lid, and Crystal check in.

Kallu and Kallik both love playing with the black plastic pickle lids, hiding them, flipping them around, tossing them in the air. 

Kallik plays with the floating iceberg, and Crystal observes.

Kallik played quite a bit with the "new" floating iceberg, which was brought out for their birthday. But he would incorporate his lid in the play. 

Kallik having a blast with the new iceberg.

Kallik and Kallu's father, Nuka, returned to the Detroit Zoo last spring, and now Suka, who is also Crystal's daughter, is said to be denned up and awaiting the birth of cubs again. Suka gave birth three years ago to twin girls, and one was raised by keepers. These girls now live in the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington.  

Most likely, Nuka will not return to Toledo, since Crystal is 25 years old and her genes are so well represented, Kallik and Kallu will most likely be her last cubs. She is already mother to nine bears, which includes three sets of twins.

As the birthday morning wore on, the cubs enjoyed playing together in the water.

Sort of Synchronized Swimming.

Playing together but not really together.

Maybe something fun over here?

Time to get up and check out the party leftovers.

Someone caught a fish!
It was part of the party treats laid out.
Kallu was carrying them about.

The black plastic lids were big hit. Great for tossing, and the perfect size to carry around.

Kallu is obsessed with the black plastic lids.
He hides them and then digs them out again.

Kallu balances, then flips it into the air.

Kallik likes the lids too.

Back to the party room to clean up. There are a few bits and pieces and the cubs rub their faces on the paint from the signs.

Kallu got a third eyebrow with the paint. Here he is with Crystal. 

Kallu's new fashion make-up.

Crystal and Kallu

Kallik with some fish.

Kallik got the most paint on his little face.
 A little yellow and lots of black.
 It all came off after he jumped into the pool a few minutes later.
 Cute while it lasted.

Kallik likes the spool.

Kallu with the spool. See the black stripe on his tail?

Happy First Birthday to our little Arctic cubs. This is Kallu.

And another surprise is coming this week, a belated birthday gift. They will surely adore playing with their new giant pickles, sent by their fans in Polar Pals. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Farewell to Payton


Payton in Memphis in 2012.

We heard today of the sudden passing of Payton, son of Arki and Aussie. He had been living in the North Carolina Zoo with Aurora and Yukon's daughter Anana since January of 2021. He died two hours into a transport to the Louisville Zoo yesterday, October 25. 

Payton in 2012

He would have been 20 years old on November 8. Payton was named for NFL running back Walter Payton. 


I visited him in October of 2012, when he was living in Memphis with Haley. He had moved to the Memphis Zoo with Aurora and Yukon's daughter Haley, who had come to Chicago from the Seneca Park Zoo in New York to get to know him. The two moved together from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago in January of 2006. There were never any offspring from these two.

Payton with the kids

Arki and Aussie were the parents of five cubs. Marty, who was born in 1996, moved to Toledo and went on to father many cubs there, all but one with Crystal. Marty died in Toledo in 2021. Arki and Aussi's daughter Tiguak, who was hand raised, went to Canada and died in 2011 while undergoing a procedure under anesthetic.  Kinepak, born in 2000, died in Buffalo in 2007. Payton was born in 2003 and Hudson, the only offspring still alive, was born in 2006 in Brookfield. 

Payton was well loved in Memphis, and also in North Carolina, a cooperative and laid back bear who always had a good relationship with his keepers.

Payton was a playful boy.

I only visited him once, but noticed he had the same kind of dance as his mother Arki, only in the water. He seemed to enjoy interacting with the youngsters who visited him.

Payton interacting with the visitors in Memphis

Payton did the reverse dance, like his mom Arki.

Payton loved to see the kids at the window

Payton at the window in Memphis


This leaves only 39 polar bears in US zoos, and there is a law preventing the import of polar bears from outside the US.


Payton was destined for the Louisville Zoo, where wildborn Qannik lives, but she is property of Fish and Wildlife, and cannot be part of the breeding program.

Farewell, Payton. You were such a good bear.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Fritz the Hippo's first year

 Photos and story by Molly Merrow (of course)

Here comes Fritz (age 3 months)

Welcome to Fritz's birthday week! The Cincinnati Zoo will have special treats for all the animals on Thursday, in honor of Fritz's first birthday.

How hard is it to be the little brother of the most famous hippo in the world? You would have to be very brave and bold, not to mention sassy, but Baby Fritz certainly can hold his own in this hippo family at Hippo Cove at the Cincinnati Zoo.  

He was born on August 3 of 2022, accompanied by much anticipation and excitement. The fans of the famous Fiona were following Bibi's pregnancy day by day, anxious to meet the new family member. Would it be a girl or a boy? Would it be full term? How would Fiona react? How long until the whole family could be seen together in the pool? And a name for the little one, to go with Fiona?

He arrived right on time, healthy and weighing what a normal baby hippo should weigh. Big sister Fiona, now six years old, had come prematurely and weighed only 29 pounds, while a normal baby hippo would weight 50 to 100 pounds. Fiona made history by her upbringing by human keepers, who even brought in some vascular experts from the nearby Children's Hospital when Fiona needed IV's. Fiona's precarious journey was shared day by day by the zoo on social media, and Fiona became a worldwide sensation. She was eventually able to rejoin her mother Bibi and father Henry. Sadly, Henry passed away a few months after the bloat was reunited, but at least she got to know her daddy.

Bibi and her calf remained behind the scenes for several weeks, bonding. The zoo announced the baby's name when he was two weeks old. He was dubbed Fritz.

After a few weeks, Bibi and Fritz started to spend a little time in the outdoor habitat, away from Fiona and Fritz's dad Tucker. 

Fritz at 3 weeks, with his mom Bibi.

Fritz at 3 weeks, quite well protected by his mom.

Tiny Fritz, 3 weeks old.

Fritz at 3 months and Bibi at window

When Fritz was three weeks old, Fritz and Fiona met for just a few minutes. That time was increased gradually until Mother Bibi was comfortable with her two children being together. 

Little Fritz with mom and big sister.

                        Baby Fritz, giving some sass to big sister Fiona

                                    Fritz with mom and big sister.

Fritz poses for his portrait.

Fritz had no fear, even when he was tiny

On October 13, dad Tucker was allowed to join the bloat for short periods, gradually to increase until the whole family was always out together. The following photos were taken in January, when Fritz was five months old.

                                  Fritz blowing bubbles next to Tucker.

                          Fritz is fascinated by Tucker's huge mouth.

            It looks like Tucker is giving some fatherly advice to his son.

Fritz has kisses for Dad

Blowing more bubbles with Dad Tucker

                                      Bibi kisses her little son Fritz

                                                Baby Fritz playing with the fishies.

           And here's the whole family, Tucker, Fiona, Fritz and Bibi.

Fritz is a fun loving little boy, often called Tater Tot, or just Tot. Maybe because he looked like a potato when he was little?

At Bibi's birthday party in February, everyone got some treats. Here's Fritz, Bibi and Fiona at the wall with keeper Jenna.

            Bibi and the kids were at the wall begging for party treats, 
                   but Tucker was a gentleman and stayed back. 

Fritz in April at age 7 1/2 months. Clever and always up to something.

Fiona may be an international celebrity, and certainly people have been coming from all over the world to see her since she made her debut, but the arrival of Fritz has only energized her fan base. Fiona may not be the tiny little baby she was in those early years, but she is still very cute and now a proud big sister of this remarkable baby brother.

The fans just keep coming. Fiona is even more popular than before, sharing the love with her family: her mom Bibi, her step-father Tucker, and now baby brother Fritz.

Fritz and the fishies in late July 2023.

Fritz with his dad Tucker, late July 2023

Fritz is popular with the kids

Fritz, so very cute, and almost a year old.

Fritz and his fish friends - end of July 2023

Nobody puts baby in the corner,
 unless baby is after a piece of lettuce.

Snack time and Fritz, Fiona and Bibi line up.
Tucker stays back and waits for his treats to be thrown.

Sometimes Fritz is a messy eater.

Tucker and son.

So tall...

It's been a big year in the life of a little hippo. He's learned to be an important part of the bloat. He's still nursing but he's gain some independence from mom, and bonded with dad and big sister. 

There have been some not-so-fun times when Tucker pooped on Fritz's head, probably not on purpose, but at least there is a pool nearby to clean up. But mostly fun times chasing Fiona around, biting his dad on the back end, biting his sister on her ear, biting everything in sight because it is fun.

A typical Fritz love bite.

And learning barrel rolls, even if Tucker gets in the way....
Fritz and his barrel rolls....

It's always fun to hitch a ride on dad too.

Getting a free ride.

And then there were the birthday parties, where he got to have a few bites of Fiona's cake in January, and everyone got to share in Bibi's cake in February. Even if Fritz was mostly too young to eat a lot of solid food then.

At Bibi's party, Jenna gives Bibi some lettuce,
 and Fritz hangs around with Fiona.

It has been a big year for Fritz. And more to come in his second year. Everyone is looking forward to a big party on Thursday, August 3.