Orphaned polar bears destined for Japan, Australia
Committee chooses new homes after exhaustive evaluation of animals’ needs
Two orphaned polar bear cubs from Nunavik will be heading to new homes in Australia and Japan at the end of October.
Since May, the male cubs, only five months old when their mother was shot and killed near Kangiqsualujjuaq, have been living at the Jardin zoologique du Québec zoo in Quebec City.
Last year, the Jardin zoologique du Québec temporarily housed two young female cubs, named Aisaqvak and Frima, before they were sent to live at Quebec’s wildlife zoo in St-Félicien.
This year, because no zoo in Canada was able to permanently take on the two new arrivals, the cubs, nicknamed “Star” and “Coeur”(heart), will be going overseas.
The young polar bears, says a press release from the zoo, will be “ambassadors from their species to the populations which will welcome them.”
When the cubs arrived in Quebec City, they hadn’t been weaned yet. But, after intensive care and contact with humans, they are, to all accounts, developing well and have doubled their weight to about 150 pounds each.
To decide where to place the polar bears, a special committee evaluated their needs and the facilities that could provide the cubs with a good, permanent home.
This evaluation was based on 16 criteria and two working documents, “Facility Guidelines of Captive Polar Bears” and “Polar Bear Protection,” and rated, among other things, experience in bear care and veterinary care in general, activity programs, potential for breeding success and the possible benefits for the conservation of polar bears and education about polar bears in the wild.
“After a painstaking study of five applications, it was decided that the new foster nations for the Kangiqsualujjauq cubs would be Australia and Japan,” says the news release on the cubs’ future homes.
“Coeur” will go to a facility called Seaworld Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia that is known for its marine and environmental research programs.
“Seaworld Australia has one of the best enclosures and enrichment programs for polar bears in the world,” said Jill Marvin, curator at the Jardin zoologique du Québec.
Seaworld’s posh “Polar Bear Shores” opened four years ago with climate control features and a large swimming pool stocked with fish, designed to make the polar bears feel comfortable in the tropics. It also has air conditioning and a place where the bears can be out of the sight of the public eye.
One of the original polar bears on display there, Ping Ping, will be returned to China in November after an extended but unsuccessful breeding loan from the Beijing Zoo.
But a young Russian female polar bear, Lia, and her brother Lutik remain on display.
In June, an older female polar bear from the United States, Kanook, died at the theme park from kidney disease.
Sea World’s head of marine sciences Trevor Long told The Australian newspaper that the new cub would have “the best home anywhere in the world ” and would play a role in the long-term future of the species.
“Global warming is affecting these animals and we’re going to see a number of changes in the Arctic regions in the coming years,” he said. “Anything we can do to allow people to understand our planet through these exhibits is going to have a benefit to that.”
The other bear cub, “Star,” will go to the Oga Aquarium in Akita, Japan, where he will live in a newly-designed and built enclosure with a wave pool and climate control.
Both cubs can expect to have a potential mate waiting for them and a regular schedule of “enrichment” activities, which include physical activities and even exposure to new odors to smell.
“These activities are intended to keep them healthy in body and spirit,” said Dominique Jean from the Jardin zoologique du Québec.
To prepare for their trips, the polar bears are being familiarized with the crates which will be used in transport. They’re also being introduced to the kinds of fish that will be part of their diets in their two new homes. As well, veterinarians from the two facilities are coming to Quebec to become acquainted with their new charges.
Jean said there’s always a risk in transporting polar bears, but, in his opinion, the cubs will be ready for the trip. Handlers from Quebec will accompany them during the long flights.
The two polar bears are not being sold to the new zoos.
“We don’t want the polar bears to have a dollar value. That stops poaching,” Jean said.