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.  

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