The Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge at the San Diego Zoo has been a really noisy place during the past few weeks. Yes, lots of construction, but mostly the noise is coming from the questioning. . . is she? We’re talking about the hoped-for pregnancy of Chinook! We still don’t know. ..for sure. That said, Chinook has gained over 20 percent of her normal body weight and has now slipped into the most calm, contented, beautiful mood we have ever seen in her 14, now almost 15, years. The most activity she shows is munching on her carrots while glancing over at the silly antics of Kalluk and Tatqiq and slowly dipping into the plunge pool to luxuriate and soak.
All this is very normal behavior for a pregnant polar bear. What we don’t know is if she could be experiencing a pseudo (or false) pregnancy. At this point, the only way we know to tell the difference is when we see the cubs. And before you wonder….Yes, we are beginning to perform ultrasound checks on Chinook. We really don’t know what to expect or when we might see something. It’s very reminiscent of the first time we performed ultrasound on our giant panda Bai Yun! The big difference is we’ll be looking for a fetus about the same size as a panda baby in a body currently at 650 pounds (295 kilograms)!
The preparations for the den and adjacent bedrooms are almost complete. The den is ready for installation as soon as Chinook gives the word; the bedrooms adjoining the den are closed in, darkened, and have sound protection; and yes, the camera mount for the den is ready! We don’t yet know if we’ll be able to have a live camera feed, but we’re working on that.
The polar bear management yard will be completed within the next few weeks. This yard will be the first place Chinook will take her cubs outside. The pool is designed specifically for cubs learning to swim. And, most importantly, the yard is all natural dirt. Can you imagine the pigpen lessons Chinook will give her cubs? Oh, the art of how to get really, really dirty!
Keep an eye on things, and when you see us put a hush over the area and ask, “Can we have quiet, please?”, you’ll know we are getting closer to knowing “Is she or isn’t she?”!
JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.