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.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

Farewell to Magnificent Lars

Handsome Lars

Lars in Aalborg

Taking care of zoo animals sometimes means letting them go, sadly. Today the world lost Lars, a beloved and legendary polar bear, to liver cancer.

Aalborg Zoo staff had detected something was wrong in the liver levels of blood taken during a dental procedure for Lars several weeks ago. Medical experts gave him a closer examination with ultrasound and found a large mass in his liver. It was terminal cancer. The best thing would be to end his pain.

In his almost 24 years, Lars has lived in a number of zoos, and many people have come to love him. He was well known as the father of the famous Knut, and also Anori and Fiete, and now the twins at Aalborg.

Lars in Aalborg
Lars was born December 12, 1993 in Munich, and moved to Bremerhaven when he was two years old. He has moved around a bit, living in Munster and Neumunster. He moved in 1999 to Berlin Zoo, where he lived for ten years with three lady bears: Nancy, Katjuscha and Tosca, and where he fathered Knut with Tosca in 2006. When mother Tosca rejected Knut, he was raised by hand by his keepers, and became world famous.

Lars loved his sticks and branches
In 2009 Lars moved to Wuppertal where there was a very nice girl bear named Jerka. In June of 2010, both Jerka and Lars became deathly ill with a mysterious illness that damaged their kidneys and cause serious brain swelling. 20 year old Jerka did not survive. It was a form of zebra virus causing encephalitis. Although Lars survived, it took a long time for him to recover.

Jerka and Lars in Wuppertal
In the fall of 2010, Vilma moved to Wuppertal, and the next year, Vilma gave birth to cub Anori. Lars moved to Rostock, where he lived with Vienna, Vilma's mother.

Lars and Vilma's mother Vienna in Rostock
Lars stayed in Rostock for three years, and Vilma joined him. Vilma gave birth to son Fiete in December of 2014.

Lars (closer) looks over at Malik

Once again, Lars moved to make room for the cub, this time going to Aalborg Denmark.  Vilma also came to Aalborg, but died shortly after her arrival of a somach infection. 

With Malik, Lars fathered cubs Nuka and Qilak, born just last winter.
Lars sniffs at a horse's head, given as enrichment.
 After a sniff or two, he was not very interested.
He was well loved by his keepers in Aalborg, who catered to his personality, always trying something new to interest him. When they heard that he enjoyed rolling in mulch, they immediately made a lovely soft mulch bed for him.

Lars in Rostock

Lars was a gentle bear, not as interested in toys and playing as some bears, but always watching, observing in his later years. He loved his melons and grapes and prunes and chewing on branches and leaves.

Lars in Aalborg, with his yummy leaves

Liver cancer has claimed a great many polar bears in zoos. Bears in the wild have a life expectancy of 18 to 20 years, and have perished before these diseases of old age, but zoo bears get good food and care and so live longer, and thus sometimes get liver cancer.

Lars in Aalborg

And so we have lost a great and legendary bear. He will be missed. Farewell, old friend.

Lars in profile

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Berlin plants and harvests her little garden

Berlin enjoys the greenery in her garden
Berlin is a bear of many talents. She has recently become a gardener in her lush Kansas City Zoo yard.

Berlin roams around the yard
 Last spring, Berlin was given one of her favorite melons as an enrichment treat. She ate the melon, and then carefully and seemingly intentionally planted the seeds in the grassy area. All summer, the vines grew, and small green cantalope appeared. Berlin's keepers watched and wondered if and when she would pick the fruit. The melon grew larger.

Berlin is queen of her castle now that Nikita has left

Berlin was very patient, and one day in mid August, she decided that the melon smelled ripe, so she picked it, and ate it all.

Berlin has a the magnificent enclosure all to herself now
One of Berlin's keepers told me this gardening story when I visited in late August. They were amazed at Berlin's patience, only picking the melon when it was indeed ripe.

Berlin dives for and picks up a pear. 
Like other polar bears, Berlin loves fruit. On the day I visited, she enjoyed an underwater picnic of pears, sweet potatoes, apples and fish.

All for me, she says
Berlin and her twin brother Yukon were born December 11, 1989 in the Cincinnati Zoo. Berlin was named for current events in Germany, the fall of the Berlin Wall. The twins' parents were Connie (Amy), who was granddaughter of Olaf and Olga of the Omaha Zoo, and Icee, who was born in Louisville. Berlin and Yukon were the last cubs born at the Cincinnati Zoo. Connie and Icee had no other cubs.

Yummy sweet potato
Yukon died in 2008, but did father four cubs with Aurora in Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester NY: Anana now in North Carolina, Haley now in Memphis, Lee now in Denver and Anoki now in Baltimore, Maryland. Berlin never did have any cubs, but spent much of her earlier life with Bubba, who was Aurora's brother.

Having a snack
When she was just a year old, Berlin moved north from Cincinnati to the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth Minnesota. She was soon joined by a male of the same age named Bubba, who was a charismatic, entertaining bear. Berlin was always on the sidelines. Bubba was very bossy too, and Berlin felt bullied. 

Bubba and his twin sister Aurora were born in the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City in November of 1989, and their parents were mother Chinook and father Cheechacko.  When Bubba died of liver failure at the young age of 17 in August of 2007, the Lake Superior Zoo even had a "celebration of life" for this beloved icon. Berlin, however, was much happier on her own, and became more active and playful without Bubba there.

After Bubba died, life was just about perfect for Berlin in Duluth, until the Great Flood of June 21, 2012. When nine inches of rain fell in Duluth in just a few hours, some low areas of the zoo, which was built along a river, were deluged. Two harbor seals, Feisty and Vivian, escaped into the city streets. A dozen animals drowned. Berlin's enclosure was flooded and broken. At 5 a.m., she was found sitting on a rock near her home, waiting to be rescued. She was darted and safely moved to a secure location, but her enclosure was destroyed. Berlin was homeless.

Berlin in the Minnesota snow at the Como Zoo in St. Paul.
 (photo by Corinna Troth)

A few hours drive to the South, Berlin's uncles Neil and Buzz had some extra room in their newly rebuilt home at the Como Zoo in St. Paul, so Berlin was invited to move in. After a month's required quarantine, Berlin was introduced to Neil and Buzz, a couple of laid back twin brothers, somewhat younger than Berlin. Berlin's father Icee was older brother to Neil and Buzz.

Berlin and her Uncle Buzz (photo by Corinna Troth)

The reunited family got along just great. Neil and Buzz allowed Berlin to be the boss. Berlin again thought that she was in the perfect place. She had wonderful big pools in which to swim, lots of toys, and two other bears who let her be in charge. It didn't last long, however.

Berlin in the training area at the Como Zoo. (Photo by Corinna Troth)

Six months after the flood, Berlin was sent to Kansas City to be companion to an active, playful young male named Nikita, who was only 6 years old but had lived in Kansas City for a couple of years already, so it was his territory. He was the boss. Nikita was the star of the Kansas City Zoo.  Nikita wanted Berlin to play with him, but she would have none of it. Nikita was big and bold and young and full of energy and clearly dominant. Berlin mostly avoided him.

Berlin's ball
For the next three years, the bears lived together, but Berlin would keep to the side, and let Nikita be the star, always with a wary eye watching out for him. She rarely played. Then in January of 2016, the popular Nikita was moved out in the dark of night. He went to Asheboro, North Carolina to be with a young girl bear, Berlin's niece Anana (daughter of brother Yukon). Nikita's fans in Kansas City were crushed. They complained that now only the boring old lady bear was left, and she was no fun.

Berlin on patrol

For the next few weeks after Nikita's departure, Berlin keep looking around, thinking that her arch-nemesis might not really be gone. If she came across a toy that he had played with and still smelled like Nikita, she wanted nothing to do with it. Gradually, she realized that she was gloriously alone again, and she became more active, more playful, even at her advanced age of 27.

Berlin with a sweet potato in one paw and a blue ball in her mouth,
 can't decide if she want to eat or play
 Kansas City Zoo visitors now see an energetic curious bear, playing games, swimming and diving, exploring, and having fun. Polar bears are solitary animals in the wild, and Berlin is happy to have that solitude back again. She can live in peace again.

Berlin spots a fish on the bottom of the pool

Caught a fish!
  Maybe next spring she will plant another garden.  

Planning next year's garden?
Thanks to my daughter Corinna Troth for the photos of Berlin at the Como Zoo. And thanks to Ulli Joerres for the research on Bubba.