It has been a really busy beginning to 2011. Chinook let us know in December that cubs were not on the way (see post Polar Bears: What December Brings), and she was ready to join her buddies Kalluk and Tatqiq in life at Polar Bear Plunge. As keepers this is sometimes a worrisome time: not sure if the relationships from the past will still be there. Of course, after some initial greeting time, the famous three were up to their old antics. It is also the time of the year that the girls seem to be best friends, and Kalluk spends more time practicing his basketball skills!
We used some of this time to do annual maintenance on the front pool: steam cleaning, replacement of lights, fresh mulch, etc. This meant that all three bears would be inside the bedrooms and yard—all together! With great affection, you must know that these three are beyond messy! Besides providing them with loads of boxes, burlap, and hay, they also felt it necessary to bring in fresh mulch from the yard into the bedrooms and the indoor pool—every day! Once back out to the main exhibit, Chinook definitely showed off that she truly is the queen of the mulch roll! Good thing Kalluk has a good sense of smell, as it appeared he was wondering where the brown bear came from!
Recently, Kalluk and Chinook have begun their great flirtation we see around breeding time. It seems a bit early this year, but they seem to be greatly enjoying each other’s company more than past years. Could this be a good sign? Tatqiq is now a bit of a loner and just stays away when the three are together. She has learned that this, too, will pass, and soon her silly, amorous buddies will be interested in playing again.
We are still collecting fecal samples from Chinook in hopes of being able to get a hormonal assay to determine pregnancy; we are now also collecting urine samples. Any information we can achieve will help us better understand polar bear reproduction.
We have also placed on the Wish List a request to give the polar bears snow. Take a look! If we reach our amount, we’ll be sure to give you notice to watch the fun on Polar Cam. Until then, keep doing your part to conserve and help the polar bears in the Arctic. Unfortunately, for all our cold weather down here it has been a very warm winter for our ice bears of the north!
JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.