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.

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