Polar Bear Breeding Season

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Inquiring minds want to know…yes, we are in polar bear breeding season! And yes, Kalluk and Chinook (pictured) have been, ahem, “amorous.” Phew! Now for some of the details…

We began to see behavior changes in mid-December that indicated Kalluk was having some hormonal fluctuations we attribute to breeding season for males. Chinook followed the beginning of January with her behavioral changes. We know quite little about polar bear breeding and exactly what occurs when, but from past experience it would seem the females fluctuate in their cycles. The fluctuations occur over a one- to two- week period with a 24- to 48-hour period of intensified behavior. The fluctuations show in behavior changes such as sleepy, grouchy, rambunctious, and solicitous! It seems this can last for a few months. Potentially, Kalluk and Chinook could be in this until June!

One of the changes we expected we’d make was to remove Kalluk’s sister, Tatqiq, from the other two. We are happy that everyone is doing really well together and even still playing together on some of the days the hormones don’t seem to be so high!

So at this point we won’t be taking Tatqiq out of the mix except for variability. We are keeping Chinook and Kalluk together 24 hours a day now. We watch them closely for any changes in behavior. At some point, Chinook will decide she is no longer interested in Kalluk’s advances, and then we’ll again make some changes depending on how each bear is behaving.

If this all sounds a bit like a roller coaster, you’re right! Like a rollercoaster we are having steep climbs, fast downhills, curves, slow-paced meandering, and surprises every day. Also, like a roller coaster at the end, we expect to say “wow! What a great ride!” We’ll keep you posted.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Watch the polar bears daily on Polar Cam!