Monday, June 26, 2023

The Toledo Wonder Twins - Activate!


Kallu top, Kallik below.

Kallu top, and Kallik below

The star attractions at the Toledo Zoo these days are Crystal's twin boys, Kallu and Kallik, 7 month old polar bear cubs who seem to have endless energy.

Roly poly Kallu on top, Kallik below
They were born to experienced mother Crystal and father Nuka on November 11, 2022. Father Nuka has since returned to the Detroit Zoo, so there are only mom and cubs now in Toledo.

Crystal and sons.

One of the cubs was much much smaller than the other, and some were concerned whether the smaller cub would be strong enough to survive. But both cubs thrived, and a public webcam enabled many fans to watch them grow up in the den, and then later learn to swim in the baby pool in the private area. 

Smaller Kallik is the water baby.
The smaller one turned out to be the brave and daring brother, first in the pool and seemingly showing no fear as he quickly learned to get in and out of the water and to swim. 

Bigger Kallu prefers to stay on dry land
The bigger brother was quite shy of the water (and still is, to a degree). There were even times when little brother would try to push bigger brother into the pool, and Crystal tried to encourage him to swim too.

Kallik in the pool, Kallu not quite.

After a week's delay from the original public debut day (it was probably the bigger brother Kallu who balked at going outside), the cubs were introduced to the world in early May. Due to popular demand, a webcam has been set up outside so everyone can watch them daily.

Kallu and Crystal, in the den cave.

Mother Crystal mostly watches from one of her favorite spots, while the twins entertain each other.

Kallu, the bigger brother, is always running back to Mom for reassurance, and still prefers being on shore to swimming in the pool or wading in the stream. He has a round little belly.

Kallik all wet.

Kallik, who is still much smaller, 30 pounds lighter, is quick on his feet, and ready for any adventure. He is inquisitive, quite the problem solver, and an enthusiastic swimmer. He comes to Mom when she calls him over for feeding time, but otherwise is pretty independent. He is built for action, more streamlined.

One of the cubs at the window, delighting the children.

Both cubs love to play with the visiting children through the glass, and the kids respond with squeals of delight. It is as if the cubs knew they were in the public eye from birth, and they love their celebrity status.

Crystal was born in Belgium, and still has a sister, Blanche, living there.

Belgium born Crystal, at age 24, is probably happy they can be playmates for each other. Her last two cubs, Hope (born in 2015) and Borealis (born in 2018), were singles, and she made great effort the play with each of them. Of course she was a little younger then.

Crystal in the play yard.
She is also mother to twins Aurora and the late Anana (born in 2006), Siku (born in 2009), and twins Suka and Sakari (born in 2012). I remember seeing her play with Suka and Sakari in the water. On the day I visited, she did not engage with the boys, but rather just watched them.

Crystal with Kallu

Crystal is grandmother to Nora, Nuniq, Neva, Amelia Gray and Kulu. The only other female polar bears we have in the US who are producing cubs are Crystal's daughters Aurora and Suka. Since Lee has returned to Columbus, there are hopes for cubs this year there. And Nuka has returned to Suka in Detroit, so this fertile pair may produce another cub or two this year. Their 2 year old twins Laerke and Astra just left Detroit to move to Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma Washington. 

Crystal finally gets up, after watching the boys play for several hours.

Even though the demands of being a playmate are much less for a mother with twins, she has to produce twice as much milk for the growing boys. Polar bear cubs might nurse for two years, so she is not done yet. However, Crystal seems tired, listless, and these two will probably be her last cubs. I am sure she is getting all the right food to make that rich fatty polar bear milk, but it has to be draining for an older lady.

A view of the play area, with the den cave in the center back. The cubs have a freshwater stream, and there is a dirt dig pit to the left.
We watched the boys play for several hours, and they do know how to have fun. Kallik had jammed a blue cube under a rock, and was working to get it out. He figured it out at last. 

Kallu watches as Kallik tries to free the blue box.

 Kallik took time out from this chore to run and play, and seemed to take delight in finding bits of bark to chew on. He also likes to chase his bigger slower brother around.

The chase is on.
Kallu, the bigger bear with the smaller name, finds other ways to amuse himself. He likes playing with the big ball, with the ball floating in the water, and him safe on shore.

Which is rounder? The ball or Kallu's bottom?
Kallu does sometimes wade into the water, but would rather not. And he runs back to Mama quite often. 

Kallu brings the ball to Mama Crystal.
The boys do play together, it is often a chase game. 

Kallik with bark.

When Crystal calls to lead them to a nursing spot, Kallu follows right away. Kallik hangs back, always wanting to play just a bit more, but then he runs to catch up.

Crystal and her playful sons.

Crystal leads Kallu away, and Kallik will follow eventually.
Crystal often nurses them in a very public area, the air conditioned den cave, the walls of which are mostly windows, so the public can get a close up view of this cozy family, and it almost feels like we are in the den with her. But they don't seem to mind. 

The cubs rest a bit, and nurse in the den cave.

Twins Kallu and Kallik are the only only polar bear cubs born in a zoo in the US this year. There is an unnamed girl cub in Hamburg Germany, still behind the scenes, daughter of Victoria and Kap. And Gerda and Kai had twins in Novosibirsk, Siberia as well, two girls just now named Belka and Strelka.

While Europe and Russia have put the brakes on polar bear breeding because they have been so successful, the polar bear population in US zoos is dwindling. We only have 39 polar bears now, and all of the young bears under ten years of age are either Crystal's cubs, or her grandchildren. It will be hard to find mates who aren't closely related for these two boys, unless the ridiculous federal law banning polar bears from coming into the country is changed.

Polar bears with names that start with K

I have been struck by how popular it is in the US to name boy cubs with names beginning with the letter K. This occurred to me as I was in the ABQ Biopark in Albuquerque in mid-May, just before we lost one of the elderly twin brothers there, Koluk. I am usually very good at keeping the polar bears straight, but even I get confused, with so many names so similar, and how to spell them properly.

Before we lost one of the ABQ brothers, we had twin brothers Kiska and Koluk in ABQ, wildborn Kali in St. Louis, older wildborn Kalluk in San Diego, three year old Kulu in St. Paul Minnesota, Nuka's twin brother Koda in Memphis, and the new twins Kallu and Kallik in Toledo. That is eight bears out of the 18 male bears we had as of a month ago, bearing names that start with K, often with one or two "L's" in the middle.

And now, the girl cub (yes, it is a girl, as I suspected), born last season and recently rescued in Alaska, has been named Kova. Another K name! She will probably remain at the Alaska Zoo.

A few more fun photos from our day at the Toledo Zoo:

The boys wrestle ...

...and chase.

Water play

Kallu shows Kallik how to have fun in the water.

In the den, Kallik meets one of the young visitors.

Cub underwater.

Napping in the den. Love that footprint.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Polar bears Kiska and Koluk in the desert

Kiska in front, Koluk sleeping in back.
 I took these photos about two weeks before Koluk died.

Some people may wonder how polar bears do in a desert environment as in the ABQ Biopark in Albuquerque NM. Twin brothers Kiska and Koluk  have lived there for a quarter of a century in good spirits most of the time. 

Koluk standing atop the basin, Kiska in front.

 Sad to say, Koluk died of liver and kidney failure, common illnesses in polar bears of advanced age, a little more than a week after my visit. He was 26 years old. His twin brother Kiska carries on by himself now, and seems to be in robust health. 

I visited the brothers last summer, and they were both active and playful. This visit, Kiska was his old self, but Koluk was barely there, coming out rarely, never swimming, very slow of movements. I could tell he was not doing well. His twin brother Kiska knew this as well, I am sure, and left his ailing brother alone.

Kiska and Koluk having breakfast together in the cave area.
It seemed to me that Kiska had already moved on, that he knew his brother was dying and it was best to just let him be alone. The boys usually nibbled on their breakfast together down in the cave area, the Koluk went inside while Kiska roamed around the enclosure, doing his own thing. Kiska carried on with the business of being a polar bear, swimming and playing and pacing and sleeping. 

Koluk would occasionally come out into the lower area, and a few times he climbed to the upper area, then dozed on his favorite rock, while Kiska roam and played.

On my last day there of my four days at the zoo, I finally found a polar bear keeper and conveyed my worries about Koluk. Yes, he was slowing down, I was told, but I was assured he should be fine again. By the end of the week, the vets had done an exam of Koluk and found liver and kidney failure. It progressed rapidly and he was gone a week later.

Kiska front, Koluk back

Koluk resting his chin on a rock.

And now it is just Kiska.

Kiska killing the barrel.

If you look hard enough, over by the wolves, you can find the old small outmoded polar bear enclosure which was been abandoned when the new habitat was built a quarter of a century ago, but is still there behind a fence. The newer enclosure was finished just before Kiska and Koluk arrived in 1997. The bears have three waterfalls, a lower pool and a deep diving pool, a slide with running water (which they have been known to climb up), and air conditioned bedrooms. There is also an inside pool.

To address Kiska's pacing problem, some changes were made recently. Kiska had gotten into the habit of pacing atop the rim of the upper pool, repeating the same seven steps in one direction, then reversing and doing seven steps back. Always in the same spot. Some polar bears pace, some swim laps repetitively. It is a calming mechanism, and has been shown to lower their cortisol levels.

Kiska in his pacing routine, which is now less frequent than it was.

A plan was devised to give the polar bear brothers access to more inside space which had previously been closed off to them, and when Kiska has been pacing for a bit, a keeper will call him inside to disrupt the pattern. When he returns to the outside, Kiska usually finds something else to do. These measures have reduced his pacing considerably, but he will probably always want to do his little dance. He  sometimes will stop pacing on his own to take a dip in the pool, or play with the many toys. 

Treat time, which is when the keeper brings in a bucket of rainbow trout to throw, will vary so Kiska won't be as likely to anticipate it. Anything to break up the usual routine. Sometimes they get salmon, but their favorite is squid.

Koluk with his fish. Although he was always an avid swimmer, Koluk wanted the fish thrown to him on dry land so he didn't have to get his paws wet, during his illness in his last few weeks.

Koluk was diagnosed with a heart murmur in 2019 and after that, the keepers made sure Koluk got his fish without diving for it. In his last few weeks, Koluk didn't want to put his paws in the water, even to get fish. 

Kiska is still quite the diver.

Kiska dives for the trout.

The zoo is in the middle of some major building projects right now, the Australian area and the new elephant habitat, but there is also a tentative plan down the road to improve the polar bear enclosure. 

Since the lions Kenya and Dixie left for Abilene in March of 2023, that grassy habitat adjoining the polar bear home has been empty. It was too small for lions, but it would be quite easy to attach it to Inukshuk Bay, which is what the polar bear area is called. I don't know if the death of Koluk will affect this, or how solid is this plan.

Welcome to Inukshuk Bay.
Connecting to the old lion enclosure would greatly improve the polar bear habitat, giving the bear (or bears) more variety, a much bigger area, and grass. From talking to the docents, I got the idea that when both these bears are gone, the zoo plans to stop keeping polar bears, but this clever change might bring it up to current standards.

The old lion habitat is fronted by a moat.

Edge of polar bear habit (left) adjoins the old lion habitat.

The edge of the old lion habit, empty now.
 You can see the walls of the polar bear habitat behind.

 Of course with the death of Koluk, we now have only 39 polar bears in US zoos, so it is not a sure bet that polar bears will be available. On the bright side, Crystal and Nuka's twin boys in Toledo were added to the population, and they are only six months old.

Kiska having fun with a big barrel.

Kiska is pretty playful for a 26 year old bear.

I did see Kiska playing with a big barrel for a long time. Even though he is 26, he is very playful. 

Kiska doesn't swim for long periods,
but he often takes quick dips in the chilled deep dive pool.
There is a lovely huge underwater viewing window.

He also likes to take short swims in the deep dive pool, which gives visitors a chance to see a polar bear underwater up close.


Kiska in the swim. 

A wider view of the polar bear enclosure, with a lower pool and an upper deep dive pool, a waterslide, and three waterfalls.
That is Koluk on the top.

Kiska and Koluk were born in Salt Lake City in November of 1996 to Chinook and Andy. Their half brother Denali lives in Sapporo, Japan and is the father of eight cubs. Anana (mother of Buffalo Luna) of Brookfield, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Detroit was also their younger sister, and they had a half sister, Aurora of Rochester, mother of Lee (father of Kulu), Haley, Peyton and Anoki.  

And here are their cousins around the world! Their grandfather was Bruno of Memphis, who was also the father of CW and Elvis who went to Europe. Elvis was the father of the famous Chocolate Bears, or Hybrid bears, Tips and Taps. CW was the mother of Nuuk-Nordman, father of Freedom; Ilka, mother of Danish Siku, Nanu and Nuno; Manasse, father of Ranzo and Sisu; Baffin of Japan (mother of Momo-Peach), and the late Yukihime of Japan. So their cousins include Ranzo of Vienna Austria, Sisu of YWP in the UK, Kulu of Como Zoo Minnesota, Sprinter of Hanover Germany, Sesi of Mulhouse France, Taiko-Siku of La Fleche in France, Akiak of Amneville France, cubs Kaja and Skadi of Rostock Germany, and Sura of Ouwehands the Netherlands. Not to mention all of Denali's cubs and grandchildren in Japan. 

I will be watching to see what the future holds for the polar bears in the ABQ Biopark. Kiska seems to be in good health, and may live for quite some time. Maybe the expansion plan involving the lion habitat will happen. Even though some may think the desert is not a good home for these bears, Kiska and Koluk have thrived here for 25 years. I hope Kiska continues to be well and enjoy his desert paradise.