Monday, December 31, 2018

Auntie Hope and her niece Nora

Hope is up, Nora is down, headed to the pool.

As we bid adieu to 2018, my last little story of the year is the tale of my visit to two little cubs I knew separately when they were small, but are now living together, growing up as playmates.

Hope and Nora at play in Salt Lake City

I visited polar bear cubs Hope and Nora in Salt Lake City in October to check up on these girls that I had known as young cubs and were now almost three years old. I am so glad these girls are together. Neither one had another cub to play with when she was younger. Now they have been together for over a year, and the keepers say they have become good friends.

Hope in Toledo at about a year old

Hope and her mother Crystal
Hope was born in Toledo to Crystal and Marty on December 3, 2015 in Toledo Ohio.

Nora in Columbus
Nora was born to Crystal and Marty's daughter Aurora about a month previous in nearby Columbus Ohio. 

Nora at the Columbus Zoo, during her hour long outings each day.

Nora in Columbus, trying to catch a fish. She sometimes succeeded
 Nora's father was wildborn Nanuq, who has since died, but not before he fathered three more cubs in Columbus. The name Nora is a combination of parents' names, Aur0ra and Nanuq.

Hope in Toledo
These two cubs, Hope and Nora, were the only cubs born in the U.S. zoos in 2015. There were three cubs born in 2016, to Aurora and her sister Anana, with Nanuq as the father, in Columbus, but there have been no surviving cubs in 2017 or 2018 born in US zoos. 

Nora in Columbus
While Hope was raised in Toledo by her mother, just a few hours away in Columbus Ohio, Aurora took care of Nora for the first few days, but then spent longer and longer periods away from the newborn, so the keepers took over and raised Nora by hand, sharing many photos and videos of the wee one as she was growing up behind the scenes. Nora became an internet phenomenon.

Baby Nora
Back in the Spring of 2016, when Nora was introduced to the public at the Columbus Zoo, she was only on view in the big enclosure for an hour every morning, starting at 9:30 a.m. There were long lines of Nora fans every morning, waiting for the chance to see her run and jump and swim and chase the fish for that precious hour, with docents on hand to hurry people along to make room for others.  Then at 10:30 a.m., Nora went behind the scenes for the rest of the day and the big bears came out. Her fans could shop for special Nora t-shirts and other merchandise, but Nora was hidden for the rest of the day. Nora was a big hit with the public, but hard to see because of the short timeframe.

Nora after her debut in Columbus
The public wasn't told, and this may explain why her mother wasn't taking proper care of her, but when Nora was about seven weeks old, she was diagnosed with metabolic bone disease cause by an imbalance of calcium, Vitamin D and other nutrients. The young cub received supplements right away, and seemed to be doing well, but she does have joint disorders which make her have a different gait, and maybe a limp or waddle. It may cause arthritis in later life. She will continue to get special care because of this.

The late Nanuq, in the center, with twin sisters Aurora and Anana
Because Nora was only in public view for an hour every day, that meant her mother Aurora and Aunt Anana could spend the rest of the day in the big enclosure with big handsome old guy Nanuq. More cubs could be expected in the 'Winter of 2016-2017, so Nora was sent to the Portland Zoo to live with old lady bear Tasul. Sadly, Tasul died a few months after Nora arrived, so once again, she was alone with her toys. Fortunately, Nora was always very good at entertaining herself.

Nora in Columbus
Nora lived in Portland about a year, and was doing well, but to provide her with company, she was moved to Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City in September of 2017.  About the same time, two year old Hope moved from Toledo to join her niece in Salt Lake City. The two cubs hit it off very well, and each has enjoyed having a playmate of the same age.

Nora in her favorite spot in the Hogle Zoo pool

Because the pool in Hogle Zoo is filled with salt water, and the cubs splash a lot, the windows by the pool are always dreadfully spotty, making it hard to get good clear photos. And almost all of the windows are over water.

Hope chasing a bird at the Hogle Zoo

When the girls arrived in Salt Lake City, Hope was 100 pounds heavier than Nora. Now, a year later, their weights have evened out. In November, the time of Nora's party, Hope weighed in at 593 pounds, and Nora was up to 571 pounds.

Hope charges after Nora, wanting to play

How do you tell the girls apart? They are about the same size now, but they have differently shaped bodies. Nora is rounder, and Hope is more streamlined. Nora has a square snout, and Hope has a longer pointed snout.

Hope has the pointy nose

Keepers say that Nora is more people oriented, which is only natural because she was raised by her keepers, and looks to humans. 


The best way to tell them apart is by their activities and where they choose to spend their time.


Nora is very interested in the fish given to her neighbors, the seals and sea lions. Maybe she got a taste for the live fish in her pool in Columbus. Maybe her joints feel better when she is floating in the water.

Nora watching the seals and sea lions
Nora on the hunt
There is also a window in the divider between the bears and the seals, above the water level, and Nora will sometimes jump up and put her paws on the ledge so she can peek over for a second into the Sea Lions' home.

Nora pulls herself up to get a better view

Hope has rolled in the mulch and gotten dirty,
 walking along the top of the wall. Nora is in the water.
Sometimes Nora gets out of the water to go up and play with Hope. Soon, however, she is back in the water, stalking the seals.
Hope on the wall, Nora on the ground
Hope, on the other hand, is a land lover. She traverses along the top ridge of the enclosure, back and forth, then jumps into the water to play for a minute or two with Nora, then back out again, often rolling in the mulch to become a brown bear. When she is in the water, she tries to go through the underwater tunnels.
Hope and Nora together in the water, for a minute or two. It doesn't last long.

 The zoo put on a birthday party for Nora with the theme Rainbows and Unicorns on November 6. It is on the zoo's facebook page so you can watch the girls party. The link is posted below. Of course Hope got some treats too. Then in December, there was another party for Hope as she turned three years old.


Nora is a water baby, which is great because water therapy helps with her bone and joint development. She spends a lot of her time floating in a particular spot, where she can keep her eye on the underwater window between the polar bear pool and the Sea Lions and Seals. Occasionally she will attack. 

Nora licks a rock
The Hogle Zoo threw a little birthday bash for Nora with special treats. Here are a few photos I took from my computer. To see the entire party, click on this link for the video of Nora's birthday party:

Nora's birthday party video on the Hogle Zoo's facebook page

A photo of Nora's party, taken from the computer.

The bears were treated to ice treats, topped with salmon oil, for Nora's party.

Nora and Hope at the birthday party

Nora enjoys a treat at the party, photo taken from video broadcast on facebook.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

My Quest to meet Boris- Part 2


I had come over halfway across the country, to the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma Washington, with a very special goal, to see Boris, who at nearly 33 years of age, is the oldest male polar bear in the U.S.

Boris, the oldest male polar bear in the U.S. zoos

On my first day visiting the zoo, I got to talk with Sheridan, the polar bear keeper at Point Defiance, took a look at where Boris lives, and found out who his neighbors are. I spent some time with the arctic foxes, the Musk Oxen, companion polar bear Blizzard, who is 10 years younger than Boris, the puffins and the walruses. But the old guy I had come so far to see had spent his day inside, playing with his toys in the indoor pool and sleeping. Boris, in his elderly state, is not allowed out on Thursdays, it seems, since that is the day they drain, clean and refill the pool.

Churchill of Rostock, father of Boris

Boris is the firstborn son of the late Churchill in Rostock, Germany. Boris came into the world on December 15, 1985 under the stork's nest of the old Castle at the Rostock Zoo. Boris' mother was Kara, Churchill's half sister. Kara was also sister of Lisa, mother of Lars and Knut's grandmother. The father of all three, Churchill, Kara and Lisa, was Olaf Wildfang. Zoos were not very strict about the studbook in those days, as evidenced by the family tree of Lars as well.

The late Tosca, one of the other German circus bears,
 became mother of Knut
In those days, in Europe and in the U.S., polar bear births in zoos were more common, and with more cubs, there wasn't always a zoo that could take the cubs when it was time to leave their mothers. Those were different times. Sadly, 18 month old Boris was sold into the East German circus system, and spent many years traveling and performing with Wilhelm, Tosca, Kenneth and other polar bears under the training of a tiny German woman known as the Polar Bear Princess, Ursula Böttcher. Ursula loved her bears and treated them humanely, but the traveling circus life was never easy for the bears.

After German Reunification, without the state subsidies for the East German circuses, everything changed. By the late 1990s, the performers had retired or gone elsewhere, and the circus assets were sold off. Tosca went to the Berlin Zoo, where she lived with Boris' cousin Lars and became mother of the famous Knut. A male polar bear named Tromsö, now 29, still lives in the Amnéville Zoo in France. But at the time, in the late 1990s, with a bigger zoo polar bear population than now, zoos wanted bears that could breed and provide cute little cubs. The male circus bears had been castrated so they would not fight with the other bears, so zoos were not anxious to take them.

Sadly, the bears who were not taken in by European zoos were sold to the Suarez Brothers Circus in Mexico, where the conditions were hot and terrible. The bears were poorly fed on dog food, white bread and lettuce, and they had cramped quarters and no pools, no way to cool off. Wilhelm took a swipe at a trainer, and in response, he was declawed.

Polar bear keeper Sheridan with some lettuce for Boris at Point Defiance Zoo.

A Canadian couple visiting Mexico saw the circus, and filmed the pathetic bears performing. They brought attention to the plight of the polar bears in the Mexican circus and the suffering animals were were rescued in late 2002 in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico by U.S. Officials. One of the six bears died during transport. The other bears were in pretty bad shape, including Kenny and Boris, who were flown to the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. There the two bears were given extensive dental treatment and medical care, good nutrition, and lots of love.

Boris watches Sheridan go, hoping for more lettuce

It is now 2018, and all the others have died, Kenny in 2012, but Boris carries on. I decided I needed to visit him before it was too late.

Boris steps down from the rock perch, to head for the water bowl

So on my second day in the Seattle area, I arose in the dark, again rode buses for hours, and climbed through the fog up the hill once again to the zoo entrance. First stop was to try to see Boris. Sheridan, the polar bear keeper I had talked to the day before, had informed Boris that he would have a special visitor and he was to be on his best behavior. As I came into the viewing building, I could see that Boris was there, atop the left rock platform, munching away on lettuce being thrown to him by Sheridan from the other side of the fence. At this time of year, he gets six pounds of food a day, to maintain his weight at 911 pounds. His favorite food is lettuce, maybe because of his familiar diet during his Mexican circus days. Less weight means less strain on his old arthritic bones. By the way, Boris does NOT like melon.

Boris had some abscesses on his foot,  which you can see here.
 He walks very slowly and carefully these days.

Boris is craggy and majestic in his old age, just like his father Churchill was, but Boris is a gentle giant, whereas Churchill was banished from the company of other polar bears for his aggression. 

Boris resembles his father Churchill, but with more gentleness

Boris' circus days are long behind him, but he did put on a “show” just for me. It was more like a royal audience.

Boris slowly makes his way

He climbed down from his rock, slowly and gingerly lumbered toward me so I could get a good look. Boris is not fond of the uneven river-stone rocks in the enclosure, but that was the material used at the time of construction in 1982. I wished he could have some grass to roll upon.

Boris walks carefully on the riverstone floor
Boris has recently had root canals for his poor old teeth. Last spring he underwent experimental and revolutionary stem cell treatment for his arthritis. This had never been done before with polar bears, and seemed to give him some relief. The experiment was repeated this summer, but the results the second time were disappointing, but he is getting medication for his arthritis. He is also receiving eye drops several times a day.

Boris weighs in at 911 pounds these days.

On this morning, Boris had several abscesses on his right front paw that had ruptured earlier, so there were streaks of blood on his paw. The vet would be keeping an eye on that.

Boris still likes his toys. I can imagine him balancing balls in his circus days.

Boris paused to play for a few moments with the blue ball.

Click on the link for the Video:

The keepers change out his toys regularly, to keep him interesting in playing.

The old circus bear slowly made his way over to the big yellow bowl of fresh water, and had a few sips.

Fresh water in the bowl. The swimming pool is filled with saltwater.

Boris takes a sip. Note the blood on his paw from the broken abscess.

Chewing lettuce makes Boris foam at the mouth a bit.
And then Blizzard joined the party. The younger bear quickly took control of the blue ball, grabbing it in his moth and running off with it, climbing up to the right side rock resting place. Boris seemed not to mind.

Click on the link for the video of Boris walking, ever so slowly. 

Video: Boris walking and Blizzard with the ball

Blizzard at the right takes control of the ball.
   Boris lingered by the yellow bowl, then strolled carefully over to the left side rock platform, climbing up ever so slowly. You can tell that he's an old bear, just by the way he walks.

Boris has had enough. He makes his way toward the exit.

Boris heads for the hills

He pauses a moment on the rock platform. 

This is  what you see  from one of the two viewing rooms. You can step down into a second viewing chamber which gives visitors an underwater look at the bears playing in the pool, although that did not happen during my visit.
 Boris is on the left, and Blizzard is on the right.
After a few minutes rest atop the flat rock, he decided that the public audience was over, made his way down, and took his exit. I was lucky enough to enjoy about an hour with His Majesty.

Boris makes his exit towards the indoor pool
 and a nice soft pile of hay for his nap.
Younger bear Blizzard continued to hold court atop the right hand rock, but there was to be no swimming that day. In the autumn, bears slow down. They eat less, move less, play less.

Blizzard toys with the blue ball.
Sheridan, the keeper, told me that Boris was free to come and go, but he would probably not come out again for the rest of the day. I did check every few hours, but it was just Blizzard, and he was mostly napping.

Boris on his throne
Although it was only for an hour, I was happy to have seen Boris, at last. Thanks, Boris, for coming out just for me. To me, you are European Royalty.