Polar Bears: The Countdown

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In just a few days, we reopen the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge at the San Diego Zoo. For the past week, the final touches have been added to all the new elements. Wait until you see the new polar bear statues. Polar bears are extremely difficult to get proportionally correct in art. The adult male statue is immense, and yes, true to real size when a male is over 12 years old and has been feasting well. The young bear reminds me so much of Kalluk when he was two years old. I think the most remarkable statue is the one of a 30-day-old cub as it would look in the den.

There are also great replicas of ring seals that you can actually get a photo with as you pop out of a seal hole. The ring seal has great, long whiskers that it uses like fingers to feel its way in dark water; our ring seals also have these! Only a few more days until everyone gets to enjoy these experiences!

The keepers have been busy with media interviews, final touches on the other animal exhibits, and, of course, taking care of our cool trio. We are still awaiting the arrival of our Arctic fox pair, but until then you will also get to see two other North American residents: our raccoon, Granite, and a beautiful great-horned owl, Shaman. We will also soon have a few more reindeer to add to our herd just behind the new management yard that we’ve nicknamed Polar Bear Park.

This past week, all of our bears have had the ability to go out into the Park with its great long, lush green grass. Tatqiq now regularly chooses to spend the night staring at the stars and smelling the spring grass. And yes, with spring comes breeding season. Kalluk and Chinook are definitely occupied with attempting to keep us all on pins and needles for the coming fall, as we get the constantly asked question, “Is she?”

Kalluk has become so intent this year that when Chinook positions herself so that he can’t be near her, we see him walk back and forth, always looking at her. You would think he would be exhausted! But no, he’s always ready when she is. And now this is where the real countdown begins. Polar bears have delayed implantation, and this creates a gestation of 195 to 265 days. Counting from the first actual breeding we observed, we will all be watching diligently from October 1 to December 9 of this year. And possibly longer, depending on how long breeding season continues. You didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?

Come spend your time waiting with us, and explore all the new fun beginning at noon on March 26!

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: Crash, Slurp, and Shadow.