Plunging into the Cold

San Diego saw its first glimpse at winter when snow fell at the San Diego Zoo’s Polar Bear Plunge. The snow was courtesy of WowWee Alive Cubs, and our bears couldn’t have been more appreciative. When Kalluk, Chinook, and Tatqiq stepped out into the white icy hill, you could almost see the smiles on their faces; you could definitely hear the laughter coming from our guests!

Tatqiq, left, and ChinookEven though this is not the first time our bears have received snow, they never cease to entertain us with their antics. Snow days are especially enjoyable because it gives us a great opportunity to see how similar our polar bears’ behaviors are to their wild counterparts up in the Arctic. Not to mention it brings out the kid in all of us, especially Chinook.

KallukMost of us probably gave up playing in the snow back when we were teenagers, but Chinook was queen of the hill and kept Kalluk and Tatqiq on their claws. There was no need for sleds; just sprawl out on the belly to slide down a slope. Instead of building snowmen, they were building snow caves. This made for a great game of peekaboo. Chinook and Tatqiq chased each other around the exhibit and into the pool, then dove back into the holes. That was when they weren’t busy teaming up to fill in the hole that Kalluk had worked so hard on. He didn’t seem to mind, though; instead, he’d start digging again in hopes of joining up with one that was started on the other side.

By 11:30 a.m. all three bears were tuckered out and resting from the morning games. After their power naps, they would be back for more. Unfortunately, the snow doesn’t usually last for more than a few days, so we definitely appreciate the people who help to support our enrichment efforts.

While our polar bears enjoy spending some time in the snow, they have become quite acclimated to a warmer climate and never miss a meal. This is not the case for the polar bears left in the wild. We all need to work together and offer our support, because for them, it’s not enrichment but rather their way of life.

Kelly Murphy is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.