Little Polar Bear Orphan

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Qannik at rest in her new home at the Louisville Zoo. Photo by Andrew Fore.

A Little Polar Bear’s Travels

Everyone was worried when word first came out about an orphaned polar bear cub in Alaska two months ago. Luckily for the cub, many folks had been preparing for this exact day for the past few years. Understanding that with the warming of the Arctic, the resulting sea ice loss would put pressures on polar bear survival, ideas, plans, and communication avenues were established between conservation groups like Polar Bears International, government agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and zoo professionals from North America to safely and expertly respond to rescue a polar bear orphan.

Qannik peeks out of her travel crate at the airport. Photo by Andrew Fore.

The cub was named Qannik (ken-ik), an Inupiaq word for snowflake. She was underweight at 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) when rescued, but now, after two months of adjustment and care at the Alaska Zoo, the 60-pound (27 kg) cub was flown on a 747 jet, compliments of UPS, to her new home in Kentucky at the Louisville Zoo’s new Glacier Run! It’s hard to believe 10 years ago we were going through the same experience when the San Diego Zoo’s Kalluk and Tatqiq were rescued on the ice of Alaska at three months old. Along with the excitement are worries about how to make sure we give the best care ever! Back then we had many folks to call on for advice. It is now our turn to share what we learned back then. We compiled everything from formula amounts, recipes, how many feedings per day, weights at what age (I forgot that Kalluk gained five pounds in one day!), training records, veterinary records— everything we could put together—and sent it all to Louisville.

JoAnne greets Qannik at her new home. Photo by Andrew Fore.

I arrived in Louisville the day before Qannik to help with last-minute preparations.  Part of the Louisville Zoo staff had headed to Alaska to begin getting to know Qannik and becoming familiar to her. They and her caretakers from Alaska escorted her on the plane to Louisville. During the flight she slept often and was treated with frozen popsicles made of her formula—definitely a big hit! How often when we fly we want our luggage to be the first off? If you’re a polar bear cub, it’s no problem! Qannik was the first one off the plane. We then placed her in a van and drove back to the Louisville Zoo. How many of you have been in a van with a polar bear cub? She traveled easily—no complaints, just lots of sniffing.

Next she was carried into the bedroom area and the crate door opened. She immediately came out and explored—well, explored after she had a bowl of formula and small chunks of Alaskan salmon! After a bit of a romp and roll through the fresh hay, she crawled into the den and fell asleep.

To be continued. . .

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: What Happened?

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