Friday, September 16, 2022

A new chapter for Jebbie


Little Jebbie in October of 2021. Playing Pattycake.

Jebbie last week, September 2022

It was a beautiful friendship between the little polar bear cub Laerke and her rescued companion Jebbie, the grizzly cub. But all good things must come to an end, and Jebbie, now about 20 months old, has left the Detroit Zoo for a wildlife sanctuary near Denver, Colorado, where he will have space to run around and play and be his best self as he grows up. I hope there will be other young grizzly bears for him to play with there.

Jebbie on land, Laerke in the water, this is how they often played.

Little Jebbie, then only a few months old, had been found wandering in an Alaskan village in June of 2021, and brought to the Alaska Zoo, then to the Detroit Zoo to be a companion to Laerke, a polar bear cub being raised by hand. 

Cubs at play, October of last year

Laerke needed to learn the social skills important for a bear to know, skills that can only be learned by interacting with another bear. This pairing would also provide Jebbie with those important experiences too.

Laerke and Jebbie liked to spar. Play is how bears learn.
 (October of last year).

Laerke's twin sister Astra was being raised by their mother Suka, but Laerke had suffered life threatening medical issues in her first few days, and had to be removed from the den and bottle-fed. As Laerke grew, the Detroit Zoo sought a suitable playmate for her.  Jebbie seemed to be a good match, and he needed a place to thrive as well.

Laerke and Jebbie romping about the Tundra in October of last year

So by the end of summer, this little odd couple, the polar bear cub and the grizzly cub, were wrestling and running around the tundra area of the Detroit Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life. Occasionally, Laerke, as a polar bear cub and a marine animal, spent time in the pool, and Jebbie, a land oriented grizzly, would be on the shore. Most of the time, however, they were together, tumbling around, chasing each other, and doing what cubs enjoy.

Little Jebbie in October 2021

Jebbie last week

For six or seven months, these two taught each other important life lessons while they played. But Jebbie grew faster than Laerke, partly because he is a grizzly bear, but partly because Laerke lags behind in growth due to her early medical problems. The time had come to separate the two friends for safety reasons. Jebbie didn't realize how much stronger he was than Laerke.

The Detroit Zoo has been home to three orphaned grizzly bear brothers, Mike, Thor and Boo, since they were rescued in Alaska in 2011 after their mother was shot and killed illegally, but it was felt that Jebbie would not be welcomed into their bonded group, and he needed to find a home elsewhere.

Jebbie and the ball last week.

Jebbie tests the ball.

Jebbie thinks about going bowling.

Laerke now weighs 290 pounds, while Jebbie weighs 490 pounds, the same as Astra, Laerke's twin sister.

A silly face from Jebbie

For some months, Jebbie stayed in the same underground area near Laerke, and they would still see each other, but they were not allowed to be together in the outside habitat. About a month ago, Jebbie moved across the road to the small enclosure behind the primary grizzly habitat. There wasn't much room to run, but he got busy removing the few trees that remained. The keepers prepared him for the upcoming move by training him to go into the traveling crate and be comfortable there.

Last week, he took down the last tree, with great satisfaction. He was ready to make the trip to his new home in Colorado. 

Jebbie the morning after he took down the last tree, behind him.

Good luck, Jebbie. Grow up to be a beautiful grizzly bear in your new home in Colorado.

Decorated pumpkins at the Detroit Zoo in 2021 depict
 Jebbie and Laerke.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Crystal a lady in waiting



Crystal, mother or grandmother of every US zoo polar bear cub born in the past nine years,  may not be shutting down the nursery just yet.  While Marty, her lifetime mate and father of all her seven children,  may have died last November, she welcomed a new temporary companion in Nuka, and reports of mating last spring have raised hopes that Crystal (nearly 24 years old), may give birth this fall. After all, the late Uslada of Leningrad Zoo in St. Petersburg, Russia, gave birth to her final cub (of 17) when she was 26 years old.

So far, Crystal is the mother of seven cubs, and grandmother of another seven. And Nuka is known to be fertile.

Nuka is the father of Crystal's daughter Suka's twins in the Detroit Zoo. Since one of the twins, Laerke, needed to be raised separately, it was felt that moving Nuka to Toledo last winter would give Suka and her twins the space they needed.

Nuka in the Detroit Zoo last fall.
He was behind the scenes when I visited Toledo last week.

Currently Nuka and Crystal are being kept separate, and only Crystal was out on the day I visited, Nuka has his days in the public eye too and the Toledo Zoo has large areas in the back, so whichever bear is not in the public enclosure has plenty of space.

The plan is for Nuka to return to the Detroit Zoo when Astra, the twin being raised by her mother, is weaned, and the two young girl cubs can be introduced. Then Nuka could be brought back to live with Suka in the coming months. After the twin girls are reunited, they may move to another zoo together.

Nuka's twin daughters, Astra (back) and Laerke, in October of
 last year.  They are also granddaughters of Crystal.

A docent confirmed that Crystal has been putting on weight recently. Her fur looks perfect. Don't be surprised if she starts denning up soon, which is normal for female polar bears, even if they are not pregnant.

Crystal is an immigrant bear. She was born in Monde Sauvage, Aywaille, Belgium on November 10, 1998 to parents Saskia and Orca  Also in Monde Sauvage was Crystal's five year old sister Blanche, who still lives there.

When Crystal was about a year and a half old, she was flown across the Atlantic Ocean to Toledo, Ohio, where there was a beautiful new polar bear habitat with a saltwater pool, the Arctic Encounter. Awaiting her arrival was a young male bear, born in Brookfield Zoo in 1996, named Marty. The next year, another female, wildborn Nan, born in 1994, arrived.

Nan in 2014 Toledo Zoo

The  autumn of 2006 saw both female bears at the Arctic Encounter giving birth. Crystal had twin daughters, Aurora and Anana (now in Columbus), and Nan gave birth to a son, Nikita (now in Hogle Zoo). 

Siku and his mom Crystal in 2010.

2009 brought the birth of Crystal's son Siku (now in Lincoln Park, Chicago.)

Crystal nursing Sakari and Suka in 2013.

The cubs just kept coming for Crystal. In 2012 she gave birth to twins, a boy named Sakari (now in Buffalo) and a girl named Suka (now in Detroit). 

Crystal with her twins Sakari and Suka in 2013.

Daughter Hope (now in Brookfield) was born in 2015.

Crystal and daughter Hope in 2016

Crystal's most recent cub, Borealis or Bo (now in Henry Vilas, Madison Wisconsin), will be three years old in a few months.

Crystal nursing Baby Borealis in 2019

 Will there be another cub born at the end of 2022? Crystal isn't telling.

Crystal also has 7 grandchildren. Aurora in Columbus is the mother of Nora (now in Oregon Zoo), twins Nuniq (now in KC) and Neva (now in Hogle Zoo), and Kulu (now in Como Zoo). Anana is mom to Amelia Gray (now in Oregon Zoo).

Aurora with youngest cub Kulu in 2020 in Columbus.

 Suka in Detroit is mother to twins, almost two years old, Astra and Laerke.

Suka with one of her twins, Astra, in Detroit last week.

Crystal's longtime companion Nan has moved on from the Toledo Zoo too, and is living in Como Zoo in St. Paul, with Crystal's son Kulu, and another older bear, Neil.

Nan, left, looking out for Crystal's grandson Kulu,
 in Como Zoo, St. Paul, in April of 2022

Sisters Aurora and Anana, who have no male bear with them currently in Columbus, underwent Artificial Insemination last March, and Aurora has already denned up. Polar Bear AI has not been successful so far, so this would be a first if she does give birth.

Aurora and Anana in Columbus in 2011.

And what of Crystal's relatives in Belgium? Her sister Blanche will turn 29 years old in December. Blanche lives with her daughter Qannik, who is almost 12 in Monde Sauvage. This year, a male bear named Nanuk (son of Cora of Zoo Brno) arrived from the Mykolaiv Zoo in Ukraine, shortly before the war broke out there. Nanuk's previous mate Zefirka and their daughter Smetanka are still in that warzone zoo, and we all think hopeful thoughts for these two bears.  

Crystal's sister Blanche is also mother of 21 year old Nanok, of Skandinavisk Dyrepark in Denmark, where he fathered Danish Siku, born in 2011 and handraised, and also twins Nuno and Nanu, born in 2012. Nuno is a new mother of twins born this last winter in Skandinavisk Dyrepark.  Nanu lives in France. Siku still lives with his father in Denmark.

Nanok of Denmark, son of Crystal's sister Blanche,
 first cousin of Crystal's children.

Danish Siku is one year older than twins Nuno and Nanu in Skandinavisk Dyrepark in Denmark. They are grandchildren of Crystal's sister Blanche, and first cousins, once removed, of Crystal's American children.