Thursday, July 7, 2022

Twin brothers in the desert


Koluk, top, and Kiska below, 
waiting for the keeper to throw some fish

Kiska and Koluk were born in Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, in the high desert of Utah, on November 19, 1996, and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico when they were still cubs. Their parents were Chinook and Andy. 

Koluk in the water, as usual, and Kiska on dry land.

So how do polar thrive in a desert environment? Very well, it seems. Polar bears are adaptable.

The brothers are a lot more active in the winter, and especially enjoy the snow days in the desert, but find great ways to keep cool in the summer.  ABQ Biopark, on the banks of the Rio Grande River, calls their polar bear habitat Inukshuk Bay, all concrete, but there is a deep pool built up in the center of the habitat, rather like a mountain, and a lower swimming area too. Their bedrooms are air conditioned, and they always have the option of going inside.

Koluk swimming around the lower window.

There is even a slide with water whooshing down, but the bears don't actually use it as a slide.

Kiska climbing up the water slide.

 They do climb up and down that slide, very sure-footed as they are. In addition to the viewing from above, visitors can see the bears through windows along a tunnel, where one window shows the lower swimming area, the center window shows the underwater activity of the bears in the 14 foot deep diving pool, and the third window shows a shaded cave area and the door leading to the indoor bedrooms.

Kiska wants to take a nap in front of the shady right  window,
 and Koluk carries a chunk of meat inside.

Koluk (pronounced KaLUKE with the accent on the second syllable) spends a lot more time in the water, and has a greenish cast to his fur as a result of harmless algae growth in the hollow hairs of his fur.


 Kiska is more active, but spends less time in the water.


Although they are twins, they are easy to tell apart. For one thing, Koluk is much greener, at least at this time of year, but he also weighs about a hundred pounds more, and has a craggy shaggy neck and head. Kiska is pretty clean looking, and has a dark line arching over his nose. Both brothers have that pouty lower lip, the same as their late sister Anana. Kiska also has the same lounging poses as his sister, some of the same mannerisms. Kiska is a lot more streamlined than his heavier brother.

Koluk above, Kiska below.

The polar bear brothers are served their main breakfast separately inside, but every morning they get some treats in the habitat.

The keeper distributes some snacks early in the day. See the fish?

The first day I visited, polar bear kibble was spread here and there, plus carrots, sweet potatoes and apples, lured the bears out to have a snack. Oh yes, there was some fish too.

Kiska starts the day with polar bear kibble, fruits and vegetables

On the second morning of my visit, the keeper had put out two watermelons: one floating in the high pool, and the other in the lower pool. One was intended for Kiska, and the lower melon was for Koluk, but somehow, Kiska got both. Koluk did enjoy some of the leftover pieces of rind.

Kiska leaps into the high pool to get a watermelon.

Kiska first appeared above the upper pool, then dove in to get the melon, eating most of it perched on the ledge. Polar bears have very good balance.

Kiska retrieves the first melon

Kiska gets his prize

Kiska shakes it off.

It's a watermelon

Watermelon smiles.

Then Kiska spotted the second melon in the lower pool. Koluk was busy with something else and had not seen it, so Kiska dove in, grabbed the melon and made a second breakfast of it.

Kiska gets the good parts of the watermelon. 

By the time Koluk had noticed the melons, most of the sweet juicy part was gone, so he nibbled what he could find, and munched on the rind.

Koluk gets the leftovers.

Still yummy, says Koluk

In the early afternoon of both days of my visit, the keeper would appear with a bucket of rainbow trout, and the brothers would get very excited, for they knew what was coming. The keeper would call one of their names, get that bear's attention, and then throw a fish for him. 

Kiska with a fish
For Kiska, the keeper would throw a fish (usually two fish, to make it seem worthwhile for him to climb up there, she said) into the upper pool. He would climb up, retrieve the fish, and then she would target the next fish for him in the lower pool so he would perform a spectacular dive to get it, which is not only good exercise and fun for him, but a thrill for the visitors. I was right next to the keeper, so I didn't get a good photo of Kiska diving, but it was quite a crowd pleaser. And there was quite a crowd there, watching the bears go for their fish.

My poor view of Kiska's spectacular dive,
as I was standing next to the keeper throwing fish.

For Koluk, she would get his attention, and then throw the fish at the far end of the lower pool. No high dive for him, for he has been diagnosed with heart problems, and they don't want to stress him. 

Koluk with his trout
They do love the trout, but their favorite food is salmon, which they sometimes get when it is donated.

At age 25, they are just a year younger than Neil of Como Zoo, who holds the honor of being the oldest male polar bear in a US zoo.

Koluk weighs about 750 pounds, although he has avoided stepping on the scale lately. Kiska has been weighed, and comes in at 650 pounds.

Kiska's back end view
Kiska and Koluk came to what was then the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque when they were 11 months old. At some point, the zoo changed its name to ABQ BioPark. The brothers are both listed as neutered, although Kiska retains one testicle. Something interrupted the surgery, and it was only half done. It is possible that he is still fertile, according to the keeper.

Anoki, who is the daughter of Kiska and Koluk's late half sister Aurora in Rochester New York, and the same age as the brothers, joined them in Albuquerque just a few months after they arrived, and stayed for ten years, finally moving to Maryland in 2008, where she stayed for another ten years. She has since moved back to Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, where she was born.  

Handsome Koluk has recently been immortalized by photographer Joel Sartore through his well known Photo Ark, a project to capture images of as many species as he can. There is a magnificent head shot of Koluk where his pouty lower lip is very obvious, reminding me very much of Kiska and Koluk's younger sister Anana, who lived at the Cincinnati Zoo for a few years before moving to Detroit, where she died of heart failure during the winter.  Koluk was chosen, I am sure, because he is such an impressive bear, with a massive head and neck, but also an expressive face. Click the link below to see Koluk in the Photo Ark.

Koluk in Joel Sartore's Photo Ark

The boys are very playful. While they don't often play together when out in the enclosure, they do have fun together behind the scenes, their keeper reported.

Koluk has a little game where he likes to "pop" a little red ball and see it bounce. 

Koluk playing with his little red ball.

Kiska once used a big blue plastic lid as a frisbee and threw it up to a young visitor, over and over, until he got it right.

Koluk and Kiska have relatives around the world. Their niece Luna, daughter of their late sister Anana, lives in Buffalo. Their late half sister Aurora left behind sons Lee of Louisville, and daughters Hayley of Memphis, Anana of North Carolina, and their companion of many years Anoki, of Rochester NY.

The twins also have a half brother, Denali, who lives in Japan and has fathered eight cubs there.

Kiska and Koluk's mother Chinook was born in Memphis, and was half sister to CW and Elvis, who moved to Europe, so there are many cousins there.

Through their father Andy they are closely related to Koda, Nuka, Snowflake, the late Rizzo, and also the late Arturo, who was famously the subject of many petitions and concern for him in his home in Argentina.

It was interesting to see how these two brothers are getting along in that zoo next to the Rio Grande. The keepers give them plenty of enrichment, a great variety of toys. One of the docents remarked that you never see either one of the boys pacing, for they always have something fun to do.

Koluk and Kiska of ABQ Biopark.

No comments:

Post a Comment