Friday, September 14, 2018

Polar Bears in the Rain

Neva, Nuniq and mother Aurora in the rain,
 one week before the departure of Nuniq
Children grow up, and must strike out on their own. This is true for polar bear families too. Just short of their second birthday, the three Columbus zoo polar bear cubs are leaving their moms, and heading out to new homes. We were told that that the cubs would be leaving "in the fall," but no date was given.

Neva looks for fish, and Nuniq floats
I drove up to Columbus to visit Aurora and her twins on Thursday, September 6, with the remains of Hurricane Gordon bringing in bands of rain. The two bear families are rotated, so each day visitors only see one family. At first we thought it was Anana and her daughter, because we spotted a large bear and a smaller cub. As it turns out, there was a third bear. The first two bears we saw were Nuniq, as big as his mother, and Neva. The third bear was Mother Aurora.

Mother Aurora sits in the rock, while Neva and Nunuq play in the rain.

Neva on the left, Nuniq in the middle, Mother Aurora on the right

 Now just a week later, Nuniq has already left for his new home in the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison Wisconsin, where he will join older lady bear Berit, who moved there a few years ago from the Cincinnati Zoo.

Cubs at play

Nuniq is too young for breeding just yet. Berit is only distantly related. Her great grandfather is Clark, who is great great grandfather to Nuniq.

Neva (I think) looking for fish

Aurora, left, with Neva and Nuniq

Underwater wave
Nuniq's sister Neva and cousin Amelia Gray will be leaving the Columbus Zoo shortly for the Maryland Zoo. Current resident of the Maryland Zoo, Anoki, will be moving to the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY, next Tuesday. This is the zoo where Anoki was born 23 years ago, and where her mother Aurora recently died. It currently has no polar bears.

Neva goes fishing.
 Columbus is the rare zoo with live fish as enrichment for the polar bears.

Visiting polar bears during a very rainy day is usually not much fun, but we rode the shuttle from the entry right to the polar bears. The Columbus Zoo polar bear enclosure provides a roof for the viewing area, with an indoor stairway down to the underwater viewing, so it was actually a great day to visit.

The twins above the underwater viewing window
 The rain action stirs up the live trout that swim in the pool, so Neva spent much time in hunting, putting her eyes and nose into the water to wait for an unsuspecting fish to come close. The fish were too clever for her that day, but she has caught fish in the past. Nuniq doesn't fish, but waits for his mother or sister to catch one, and then he steals it.

Aurora gets some petting from Debbie

The rain didn't bother the bears at all. In fact they were very active and playful, and Neva was very much on the prowl for fishies. At one point, she was on the rocks, watching for fish, and a big clap of thunder spooked her. She ran away, but soon came back.

A good crowd took advantage of the shelter in the viewing area

Nuniq likes to cling to the window, and jump up and down.
 Here he surprises Neva behind him.

Neva and Nuniq

Neva plays submarine, looking for fish

Still looking for unwary fish. The rain makes the fish more active.

Neva's favorite past time. Fishing.

Neva gives a kiss to her brother

Neva and Nuniq. They are both shaggier than their mother,
rather like their late father, Nanuq.

It was a treat to see the bears in action during a heavy rain.
Here we have Nuniq and Neva.

Neva and Nuniq
Neva drips water, in between spying on the trout.

Neva soaking wet
Nuniq surrounded by raindrops

Neva fishing, Nuniq just playing

Aurora on the rock, Nuniq at the window. Neva in between

Nuniq has special glowing brown eyes. He really does. 

Cubs playing above the underwater viewing.
The visitors stayed nice and dry as a storm raged outside.

All three bears, mom and cubs, underwater view

The bears are much more active in the rain.

The family, all together, before the cubs' departure

Nuniq, Neva, Aurora

A family portrait. Aurora is in front, Neva back left, Nuniq is back right.
  Amelia Gray and Neva will be leaving Columbus soon. The zoo is not saying when, but it could be any time, since Anoki will be moved next week. These girls have the same father, the late Nanuq, and their mothers are twins, so the are very closely related, but have never played together, since the families are out on alternating days. Of course they have seen and smelled and heard their cousin, and will get along great in Maryland, I am sure.

The rain was very intense. 

The sister moms, Aurora and Anana, can finally be reunited after being separated for two years, while they raised their cubs. There is talk of bringing in a male, but with so few polar bears, and even fewer unrelated to them, it remains to be seen. 

Nuniq cleans the window

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Adieu to Mother Susi, mom to the hybrid bears


Today, elderly European Brown Bear Susi, best known as mother of the famous hybrid twins Tips and Taps, has ended her journey.  At age 38, she was blind, and suffered from heart complications. In addition her mobility was greatly limited. 

Susi was greatly treasured by Zoo Osnabrück, where she arrived in 1980 as a cub, along with her sister Ossi. She lived there almost her entire life, sharing an enclosure with her sister, a male brown bear, and a pair of polar bears, Sonja and Elvis.  

The beautiful and very famous "chocolate bears," Tips and Taps, were rare hybrids between brown bear and polar bear. They were an "accident," but became a beloved pair for visitors to the zoo in Osnabrück, Germany.
The twins were also studied by scientists.
Sussi gave birth, surprise! in January of 2004 to hybrid bears, a cross between European brown bear and polar bear. Elvis was the father. The zoo had not thought that this was possible at the time. But there they were, silvery little cubs. It was a bit of a scandal at the time, but zoo visitors were enchanted by these beautiful little bears.

The sign posted outside Susi's enclosure in recent years

Translation of the German sign:

Why does the bear live in this back area?

Our old brown bear Susi was born was born in 1979 and is thus very important.

Because of this age, she is almost blind and only a little mobile.

She feels much safer in a restricted area and can always retire to the interior when she needs her rest.

Susi in her little home, designed for her security.

Tips and Taps were a great attraction at the zoo, and lived with silver foxes, who would share their meals. It was a great enrichment for the bears. Since the bears were part European Brown Bear and part polar bear, they shared behaviors and physical features of both. For example, polar bears do not hibernate, but Tips and Taps did.
Tips and Taps in happier days
                                Tips was so silvery and beautiful

The sign at Tips and Taps' enclosure, telling bout the Hybrid Bears.

Taps, the darker of the twins, plays with a ball.

Sadly, Tips escaped from her enclosure in spring of 2017 on a busy Sunday, and had to be shot.

Taps and Tips

Elvis, born in Memphis, Tennessee, was the father of the hybrid bear cubs.

The silver fox enclosure next to the hybrid bears,
 where Tips was able to escape.

Now Taps alone of the family survives.

Taps can still be visited at the Zoo Osnabrück

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Qannik in Summer

Qannik has grown into a water lover
 We all remember the little round roly poly cub Qannik, who was rescued from Alaska's North Slope when she was a tiny 13 pound starving baby in the winter of 2011. Now she is almost eight years old.

Qannik in her early days at the Louisville Zoo

Little Qannik not long after her arrival at the Louisville Zoo.

Qannik was hand raised, first at the Alaska Zoo and later at the Louisville Zoo.

After several months recovering and gaining weight at the Alaska Zoo, she was flown to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, where she still lives and swims and plays.

Qannik this summer. She has slimmed down quite a bit

Qannik has come a long way from the little fluffball I first visited in the early fall of 2011. Now she is a sleek young lady bear of seven and a half years old. 

Qannik this summer

Since her friend Siku left for Chicago, Qannik has been the only polar bear in Louisville, but she shares the habitat, alternating with a family of grizzly bears. 

Qannik comes up the steps from the moat
Rotating the bears in the two enclosures gives great enrichment, as they can smell the previous occupants, and search out places the other bears have left their scent.

Young Siku at the ramp at Glacier Run in 2013
For a number of years, Siku lived at the Louisville Zoo, and was a part of the rotation. As a young male bear, he longed to play with Qannik, but they were never together, although they saw each other across the way. Siku has since moved to Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Qannik loves those hunks of wood. They float!

The Louisville Zoo is a pioneer in rotating habitats as a way of adding enrichment and excitement for the animal residents.

Qannik peers into the hidey hole in her underwater  playground.
She left a treasure in there, apparently.
 Qannik may have grown up, but she still likes to place various objects in her "hidey hole" in the big pool, and then retrieve them. And then she does it all over again.

Investigating the contents of the secret hiding place...

For a time, Qannik was slowing down, having put on maybe a little too much weight. She was sleeping more and playing less. But now she has slimmed down and has plenty of energy to swim.

A piece of driftwood, just right for hiding in the secret hole.
If she doesn't get it jammed in just right, it will float up again.
As a rescued wild polar bear, Qannik remains the property of Fish and Wildlife, and there are some recent regulations that prevent the breeding of wild bears, so she has never been in an enclosure with another polar bear. Qannik was near Siku and Arki, and could see and smell them, but was never allowed to play with them. Siku had always shown great interest in Qannik, but Qannik had been indifferent, so when Siku left, it didn't impact her very much.

She loves her drifwood.
Qannik loves spending time in her big deep diving pool, playing with driftwood, mostly, She especially likes pieces of wood that are small enough to hide in her underwater secret place.

Big enough to play with, but too big to hide.

Glacier Run is designed to give the bears plenty of climbing opportunities. There are stairs and ramps so the bears keep those back leg muscles strong. 

Qannik peeks up to see if her keepers have some treats to throw down.

The big pool is especially great for visitors, with a huge window for prime underwater viewing, and many side windows around the enclosure.

Diving after her prize driftwood.

The underwater viewing area at Glacier Run gives a fantastic view
of Qannik's underwater adventures.

Churning up the bubbles.

Face to face, underwater.

Qannik plays with the underside of an artificial iceberg.
She has soooo many toys.

Qannik views her visitors.

Blowing bubbles

Qannik looks cute and fluffy,
 but here you can see the size of her polar bear teeth.

  I noticed that she did pace a bit, with a neck twist.  But then she was back to swimming. 

Pacing a bit

A bit of a neck twist, as Qannik turns in her pacing routine.

Qannik on the move
The keepers change her schedule, her toys, her daily routine all the time, to avoid the stereotypical behavior, such as seen with Arki. They will move things about the enclosure, to interrupt pacing as well. Qannik paces rarely, but polar bears are made to walk, and all polar bears will pace at times. 

Later on Qannik was inside in Polar Bear Alley, and mostly napping.

Qannik stretching

Qannik is given a variety of bedding materials,
 with different textures and scents, for enrichment.


Qannik posing for the paparazzi.

Qannik lounging around

Qannik close up.
 One of her ears still has the hole from being tagged when she was a tiny cub.

Qannik stretches some more.

Qannik smiles