Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Berit has a very young admirer


The lovely Berit, on the right, has an admirer in young Borealis

It is interesting to observe the friendship between the two polar bears at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison Wisconsin. They are 20 years apart. 

Berit is the attractive older lady that young Bo follows around like a puppy dog. You can tell he admires her, and she doesn't discourage his attentions too much.  Bo is three years old, and Berit is 23.

For the past six years, Berit has been something of a babysitter or maybe a nanny, bringing up half grown cubs put into her care.

Berit has always had plenty of companionship. She and her twin brother Ulaq were born in 1998 in Denver and moved to the Cincinnati Zoo when they were about a year and a half.  Sadly, Ulaq died suddenly at the age of 4. But Berit was not alone, for her friend Rizzo, another female, was there.

Berit in back, Rizzo in front, in 2011, Cincinnati Zoo.

And then a few years later, along came a courteous male bear named Little One.  The three polar bears of the Cincinnati Zoo made for a happy threesome. Rizzo was Berit's best friend, and they often took naps together. Little One let the ladies be in charge. 

Rizzo left Cincinnati for Salt Lake City in 2012, and died five years later. So then it was just Berit and Little One in Cincinnati.

Little One eats an ice treat for Valentines Day 2015,
while Berit looks up at the keeper for more, 
at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Late in 2016, there was a three way zoo switch all at the same time. Anana left Buffalo to come to Cincinnati, Sakari left Henry Vilas to move to Buffalo, and Berit moved to Henry Vilas, where Sakari's twin sister Suka remained.

Berit on the left, and young Suka on the right,
at Henry Vilas in the summer of 2017.  

So now Berit had young Suka as a playmate. Berit and Suka got along famously. But Suka was growing up, and would be ready to have cubs. Suka moved to Detroit in 2018, where she is now mother of one year old Astra and Laerke.

Young Nuniq in Colubus, just before he moved to Henry Vilas.

Never fear, for a few months later, Suka's nephew Nuniq, not quite two years old, arrived from Columbus, and Berit was again the playmate of a young cub. Again, Berit had a very entertaining companion to keep her feeling young.

In late 2020, Nuniq moved to Kansas City to be companion to old lady Berlin, and Berit was again on her own, but not for long. Within a month, Suka's little brother two year old Borealis arrived from Toledo. Berit had another another bright eyed half grown cub to bring up. By now she is used to it.

Bo nuzzles his lady friend Berit.

Bo is bigger than Berit, but he still looks and acts like a cub. He looks to her for leadership and approval. 

Bo and Berit puzzle over the feeder

On the day I visited in April, the keepers had given the two polar bears a chained ladder puzzle feeder, with lettuce and maybe some other goodies inside. Berit and Bo played tug of war with the ladder, in between finding snacks. Such enrichment keeps the bears busy, and makes them work for their food, as they would in the wild.

Berit has found some snacks. Bo pulls on the chain.

Berit has again found some lettuce. Bo is still looking.

A bit of a tug of war.

Bo tries to figure this thing out.

It is a spacious habitat, and offers a sand pit for digging, right in front of the restaurant windows.

Bo chases Berit around the sand pit, in front of the restaurant windows.

Berit head toward the pit.

Bo heads toward Berit.

The view from the restaurant window.

There is plenty of grass in the meadow, and a good sized pool, and Berit has always enjoyed swimming her laps. But she didn't swim on the day I visited. 

It is good enrichment to give the polar bears
 a new environment occasionally. 

During the winter, when the grizzly bear sisters are denned up, the polar bears sometimes take over the neighboring habitat. 

Berit heads inside.

When Berit went inside, Bo would usually follow her, although he sometimes came out again and spent some time on his own.

With Berit inside, Bo is on his own.

Bo by the pool. He cries out to Berit, who is inside.

 At one point he was lounging by the pool, and calling to Berit to come out and join him. She finally did come out, and he got very affectionate with her, even attempting to mount her, but it was past breeding season and he is only three years old, after all. Maybe next year he will be more successful in wooing his older lady.

Bo attempts to get amorous with Berit. She says "what are you doing?"

Is Berit laughing at young Bo's attempts?

Let's kiss and make up. 

It is obvious that the two bears get along well. There probably won't be a pregnancy from this pairing, for Berit was on birth control early in her life, which has likely left her sterile. They do seem happy together.

Bo and Berit make a cute couple.

A little about Henry Vilas Zoo

The zoo was born of a family tragedy. Five year old Henry, son of William and Anna Vilas, died of diabetes complications and his parents donated a large tract of land for a park and zoo in their city of Madison, Wisconsin, in memory of their son in 1904, with the stipulation that the facility must remain free. Whenever I go to this zoo, I think of little Henry, and am grateful for his legacy.

The first bear exhibit was built in 1913. In 1988, two orphaned polar bear cubs, Nanuq and Norton, are were brought to the zoo. Nanuq grew up to become the father of Luna, Nora, Nuniq (who later came to live at Henry Vilas for a time), Neva and Amelia Gray. Norton became the father of Triton, who was the father of Talini. 

 Here are Bo's aunt and uncle, Suka and Sakari, as Arctic Passage celebrated its grand opening in May of 2015. 

Arctic Passage opened in 2015, with Suka and Sakari as the first polar bear residents.

The Henry Vilas Zoo is one of ten remaining free zoos in North America. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Blizzard is no more



It is the end of the polar bear era at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma Washington. With the death of 26 year old Blizzard, there are no polar bears, after 80 years of keeping the bears.


Blizzard had been diagnosed with liver cancer last year, and was being treated with chemotherapy, which gave him more time. But the tumor was aggressive, and ultimately, Blizzard lost his battle. 

Blizzard, always keeping busy.

Blizzard was born in the Canadian wilderness of Churchill in the fall of 1995, and along with another orphan, Glacier, he came from Calgary to Tacoma in March of 1997.

Already in Tacoma was a young girl cub named Nan, who had been born in the wilds of Alaska in the fall of 1994. So Blizzard grew up with Nan and Glacier as playmates.

Blizzard and one of his toys.

A smile from Blizzard.

Nan left for  the Toledo Zoo in Ohio in mid-2001. Young Blizzard and Glacier welcomed two surprising roommates late in 2002. The US government had sent in agents to rescue six  suffering polar bears in a Mexican Circus while the bears were being overwintered in Puerto Rico, which is part of the US so they had jurisdiction.

Two of the rescued circus bears came to live at Point Defiance Zoo. Kenneth and Boris were no doubt happy to be in this comfortable environment, with a pool, good food and room to roam, after years of poor diet, living in cages, suffering in the heat, and having to perform tricks for the circus.

The four bears lived happily together at the Point Defiance Zoo for many years. Kenneth died in 2012, and Glacier died in 2015. The last of the rescued circus bears, Boris, died in 2020.

Blizzard on the left, with ball, old Boris the circus bear on the right.

Blizzard, with a keeper in the background.

And now Blizzard is gone.

Blizzard was an amazing, clever bear, good at playing games and having fun. He enjoyed his visitors too, and entertained his fans with his antics. Blizzard really loved his toys and his keepers.

Blizzard on the go.

I visited Blizzard and Boris in the fall of 2018, and marveled at how active Blizzard was. Boris was quite elderly  at the time, so Blizzard was pretty much on his own, and was fairly cheerful, busy with his toys. 

And he was active up until last week, when his health deteriorated quickly. 

Blizzard  (whose exact birthday we don't know) and Nan's current companion Neil of the Como Zoo had been the oldest male polar bears in the country at age 26.

With the loss of Blizzard, there are only 39 polar bears in zoos in all of the United States. Farewell, old guy. You will be missed.

Goodbye, Blizzard