Thursday, September 7, 2017

A baby for Berit?

Young Suka on the left, and Berit on the right

18 year old Berit, long time resident of the Cincinnati Zoo, made the move to the Henry Vilas Zoo in late November, 2016, leaving behind a broken-hearted male named Little One. She and Little One had been together for almost 16 years at the Cincinnati Zoo, and Berit had not gotten pregnant. The two bears got along very well, and often played in the water. Berit was the boss, and usually got first choice of the food and toys. Little One did not mind a bit. There was a third bear, a female named Rizzo, who was on the bottom for dominance, and Little One preferred the pretty Rizzo as a romantic partner, but he like Berit best as someone to play with. Berit is big hearted, and she was fond of both Little One and Rizzo. She often curled up and took naps with Rizzo, a rarity in the polar bear world.

Berit - Halloween at the Cincinnati Zoo

Berit curls up for a nap with her friend Rizzo at the Cincinnat Zoo

At Henry Vilas, in the brand new polar bear habitat, Berit joined four year old Suka as a companion and playmate last fall, and they just love spending time with each other.

Suka above, Berit below. Suka likes to dominate Berit in their water games.

Suka on the left, Berit low in the water

Suka gives Berit a big hug

Suka is usually the aggressor in their water games, and Berit plays along with the youngster.

However, Berit sometimes bites back.
Here she is taking a little revenge on her young playmate. It is all in good fun.
Berit's move was part of a three way exchange taking place on the same day in November.

Anana, who had previously given birth to a cub named Luna in 2012 with a bear named Nanuq as the father, moved from the Buffalo Zoo to the Cincinnati Zoo, with many hoping that she would have another cub with her new paramour, Little One. So far, it has not worked out.

Little One watches new girl Anana through the cave door
 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
So far, they are very apprehensive of each other.
 Anana and Little One do not care for one another at all, and there will be no cubs this year at the Cincinnati Zoo. Perhaps it will just take them a little more time to work out their romance. 

Sakari and his sister Suka were born at the Toledo Zoo
Also as part of the three way exchange, four year old Sakari, twin brother of Suka, moved to the Buffalo Zoo to be with four year old Luna, daughter of Anana and Nanuq. The young bears are said to be getting along very well. There may very well be cubs in their future at the Buffalo Zoo.

Suka and Berit hope for treat from their keeper at the Henry Vilas Zoo
As for Berit, in her new situation at Henry Vilas, she may be in the family way through a miraculous set of circumstances, made possible by some very dedicated polar bear reproduction researchers.

On April 26 of this year, 29 year old Nanuq died at the Columbus Zoo after suffering from age related illnesses. The next day, experts from CREW at the Cincinnati Zoo went to the Columbus Zoo to gather sperm from Nanuq, and they made a fast trip to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin to try to inseminate Berit with fresh, not frozen, sperm from Nanuq. Fortunately, Berit was in the right reproductive cycle to make this possible. 

Nanuq, whose genes are quite valuable because he was a wildborn bear, had already fathered Luna with Anana, Nora with Aurora, and the three Columbus cubs born last fall to Suka's sisters Aurora and Anana. These three cubs were the only cubs born in an American zoo last year.

Nanuq, center, lived out his final years with Suka's older sisters Aurora and Anana at the Columbus Zoo
Nanuq was very special to the folks at the Henry Vilas Zoo. He came as a rescued orphaned cub just six months old to the zoo in the spring of 1988 and stayed there for over 20 years. In early 2009 he moved to the Buffalo Zoo where he lived with Anana and fathered a cub, Luna. In 2012, when the Buffalo Zoo was planning a new polar bear habitat, he moved to the Columbus Zoo where he fathered Nora in 2015, and the three cubs living there now, Neva, Nuniq and Amelia Gray.

The late Nanuq

Now there is a chance that the late Nanuq might be a father once more time, this time with Berit, a bear he had never met.

Berit at the end of August
As summer comes to a close, Berit is looking very round. She weighed about 700 pounds in Cincinnati, and she may have gained weight in Madison, for she looks heavier.

Berit plays along with Suka, left
    Berit acts very patient and motherly with Suka. The younger bear is always wanting to play very roughly with Berit, and loves to bite her and hold her under the water. Berit doesn't seem to mind.

Suka and Berit
The bears look very different to me. Berit's face is pointier, and  her body is shaped like a long torpedo. Suka has a bigger head and broader snout, and is a round snowball of a bear. Suka also likes to stand up higher in the water and crane her neck to look around. Berit stays low in the water. Berit's teeth are darker too, due to age. It seems to me that Suka's head is bigger. Suka is also more dominant.

Berit is on the left, Suka is on the right. They are shaped differently.

Berit has always loved to swim. At Cincinnati she swam for hours every day, charming the visitors who watched her swim endlessly in the large underwater window.

Berit swimming her laps in Cincinnati

Berit with a rawhide chew in Cincinnati

And Berit went after the second rawhide chew thrown in for Little One.
 Berit was the boss in Cincinnati.
 She seems to be content to let Suka take the dominant role in Madison
While in Cincinnati, Berit and Little One had many battles and fun times in the smaller pool. Berit used the larger pool for swimming endless laps all day. If there was a bear swimming, it was Berit. Little One liked to nap all day.
Berit would swim laps for hours in the Cincinnati Zoo.
Now at Henry Vilas, Berit has an energetic young cub to keep up with, and she loves it.  She swims, but not those endless laps she felt compelled to do in Cincinnati. She seems pretty happy in Madison with a surrogate daughter to take care of. Maybe she is practicing for real motherhood in a few months!

Berit on the left, with you Suka on the right.

Berit looking up at her beloved friend and playmate Suka
Berit is a granddaughter of the prolific Olaf and Olga of the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.  Although Olaf and Olga had many cubs, there are not many of that line still surviving. It would be great to keep that family going. 

Berit on the left, Suka on the right

Berit chasing Suka at Henry Vilas

Berit on the left, touches noses with Suka

Berit on the left, with Suka, having so much fun!

We will be watching these two girls this fall.
Maybe there will be news for Berit (on the left)!


  1. Vielen Dank für Deinen schönen Bericht.
    Liebe Grüße Jens

  2. Berit is NOT Olaf's granddaughter she is the daughter of Ulu and Olaf of the Denver zoo. Also sister to Klondike and Snow .

    1. Berit's father Olaf (Jr.) is the son of Olaf and Olga. So yes, she is the granddaughter of Olaf and Olga of the Henry Doorly Zoo.