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About Author: JoAnne Simerson

Posts by JoAnne Simerson

103

Polar Bears: Quiet Season

Kalluk LOVES his carrots.

As you may know, polar bears Kalluk and Chinook bred late this spring. It is assumed but not confirmed that polar bear gestation is 195 to 265 days. If we count from the first day of breeding to the last, we would expect Chinook to give birth between November 2 and January 29! Most of you may be thinking it’s holiday season, autumn, winter, snow season, etc.. For us, it’s quiet season.

In early October we began preparations. First we set up all the charts to record Chinook’s behavior, weight, and den temperatures. We aim to have Chinook’s weight around 660 pounds (300 kilograms) at the time she would enter her den, and we look to have her den temperature right around 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). Her behavior is completely up to her! We also began working with our veterinarians for ultrasound exams and our reproductive physiologist for thermal imaging exams. This is the first year we have tried thermal imaging on a polar bear, which has shown to be a good tool with Bai Yun, our giant panda. Ideally it would show increased heat indicating Chinook’s uterus gearing up for pregnancy. Of course, polar bear fur and skin is much denser than a giant panda’s, so this makes it a bit more challenging. And even ultrasound is challenging, as we are looking for very small changes in a very large bear.

So far, there is nothing to confirm a pregnancy, but the procedures are definitely a learning process. The great news, though, is that Chinook could not be a more willing patient. We are continuing to collect fecal samples and urine samples to be analyzed for several different hormones to see if one is a good indicator of pregnancy. The initial results from breeding through middle of summer looked promising; we will still have to wait, as it is still early, especially if she doesn’t give birth until January!

For now we are doing our best to set up a safe, secure, quiet environment for our girl. Her den was installed a few weeks ago, and we have given her two full bales of Bermuda hay. It is challenging not to rest in the big beds she has made—they look so comfortable! She also took a piece of sod from the polar bear yard and carries it to each bed to use as her pillow. We are careful not to disturb any of the preparations she is making. Every day we let her tell us what she wants to do. Currently, she seems to like to sleep in after breakfast and go out mid-morning for a nice swim and sun soaking. After about an hour or two she lets us know she would like to come back in, which we allow. We give Chinook her last meal of the day, and then she pretty much goes to bed. All we have now is the waiting! Is she or isn’t she? We just don’t know.

Tatqiq enjoys one of the Halloween treats provided on October 30.

Kalluk and Tatqiq are both doing great. They are about to turn 12 at the end of this year. Tatqiq maintains her trim figure year round at 540 pounds (246 kilograms); female polar bears, for the most part, finish growing by the time they are 6 years old. Male polar bears, on the other hand, grow until they are 12 and can put on body mass for the rest of their lives. This year, our Kalluk not only gained back all the weight he lost during breeding season, when he had no interest in food, but is now up to 1,188 pounds (540 kilograms)! We thoroughly expect he will hit 1,200 pounds (545 kilograms) before he begins to lose interest in his meals for next year’s breeding season, if we have one! We may skip it if Chinook does indeed have cubs.

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

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Polar Bears: Keeping Cool

Tatqiq knows how to stay cool!

The summer of 2012 will go down in history as one of the hottest on record. This brings lots of questions as to how polar bears at the San Diego Zoo can live in even the milder heat here. The first answer: our 130,000-gallon (490,000 liters) pool is chilled to under 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius). The shallow area allows the bears to lie down and even sleep if they choose. The mid-range allows for great soaking opportunities, and the 12-foot (3.6 meters) deep end allows for complete submersion and swimming. On most summer days, the breeze through the exhibit comes right off of San Diego Bay, so it is a cooling sea breeze. Throughout the exhibit there are numerous shaded areas with various bedding materials for the bears to sleep on. There is also a portable air conditioner we can direct up by the back area where they especially like to sleep. Inside the bedroom area, we also have air conditioning to take the heat out if absolutely necessary.

The real reason we can keep our polar bears comfortable, even on the hottest days, is by limiting the amount of fat they have on their body. For polar bears to survive the cold of the Arctic, they must build up at least 4.5 inches (11 centimeters) of fat over their body. They do this by eating seal blubber. A polar bear’s diet is 90 to 95 percent fat in the wild. They are so specialized for eating fat that they metabolize close to 90 percent of what they eat into body fat.

Here in San Diego, our nutrition staff has developed a diet that is 5- to 10-percent fat, so our polar bears get what they need for good health but not for bulking up for a cold winter. All of our bears would weigh much more than they do now if they had those fat layers. Kalluk, who is now over 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms), would probably be closer to 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms)! When polar bears put fat on, it goes first on their belly to protect their core. Do you know that the body temperature of a polar bear is the same as ours? 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius)! The fat then layers over their bum and spreads out over their body.

Here’s one way to tell our three apart: When you look at them in profile, Kalluk and Tatqiq have a rounding of their bellies, but from the top of the hip to the tail it’s flat. Since we keep a bit more weight on Chinook (just in case she might be pregnant), her belly is nice and round, and her bum matches! And let’s not forget the CARROTS! Polar bears get little to no nutrition or calorie from vegetation. Our three can eat as much as they like and not put on a pound. Currently, they get 100 pounds (45 kilograms) a day between them that gets chewed, swallowed, slightly steamed in their bellies, and then eliminated. As keepers, we call that job security!

One problem with warm weather we seem to be challenged with this summer is the algae growth. Our water quality team constantly monitors the pool’s water for safety and cleanliness, but algae is airborne until it finds moisture. With the warm temperatures and direct sun, we’re experiencing quite a bloom. We add rock salt to help, but, unfortunately, some of it has imbedded into Tatqiq and Kalluk’s hollow hair shafts. It sneaks in through the small breaks in the shaft formed by grooming. This won’t harm them in any way, but it’s pretty embarrassing to have polar bears with a greenish hue! Our polar bears were once famous for being green when they lived in the smaller grotto exhibit decades ago. Since moving to this exhibit in 1996, we’ve not had any “greening,” until this year. So in the next few days we’ll be hosting “spa days” for a purpose—mineral salt-water soaks for all! Chinook and Tatqiq have always been pros at the soak; Kalluk will be challenging, since he thinks it’s only about dive bombing his sister and then slurping the saltwater off his giant paws. He’s got 13 inches (33 centimeters) on each foot to slurp from!

Summer brings great fun but also great danger with the dry heat. It is sad to hear of fires burning across our nation, so many losing their homes. It’s heartbreaking to lose so much; thank goodness for insurance. In the past few decades, polar bears have lost their ice homes in an area the size of Texas and Alaska combined. We now see forest fires burning in the Canadian tundra, the place with one of the highest densities of polar bear denning, the place where our beloved Chinook was born. What insurance do they have? They have us. We must be the guardians of our planet. We must continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, especially when it seems there is no hope. We still know it can be done. We must be the insurance to protect and insure that our children and grandchildren will still have the opportunity see the magnificent polar bear roaming our planet.

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

Watch the polar bears daily on Polar Cam.

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Polar Bears: Breeding Season!

Kalluk and the rest of us eagerly await a polar bear cub or two!

We are all on pins and needles to see if the San Diego Zoo’s polar bears, Kalluk and Chinook, will breed this year. They have always been early birds by breeding in March and even as early as February! But normal breeding time for polar bears is April through May and sometimes as late as June, something we won’t even contemplate! From the looks of how flirtatious Chinook has been and how attentive Kalluk seems, our patience should be rewarded.

We are still participating in reproductive studies looking at hormones excreted in the bears’ urine and feces, but for the most part we still rely on behavior observations. One of the very interesting behaviors we see is with Chinook. Typically, a week before actual breeding and continuing right up to actual, we see her have seizure-like spasms followed by weakness in her back legs. The spasms last only seconds and the weakness only a few minutes. If you don’t know what these are, they can be very scary to see!

But there is no need to worry: Chinook is not alone with these. Most of the other breeding female polar bears show the same behavior. I have asked polar bear biologists who have spent many years observing bears in the Arctic and have sent them video of the process, and they are mystified as to its purpose. Perhaps it plays some role in preparing a female’s legs to hold the male during breeding, since males are usually twice the size, and she may bear his weight for long moments. In the last week we have seen Chinook have these spasms, and over the last few days they have increased both in frequency and intensity. This should be a sign that we are almost there!

We all know what follows: waiting to see if Chinook becomes pregnant and gives birth. I have been getting lots of experience working with polar bear cubs over the last few years since Kalluk and Tatqiq joined us as cubs in 2001. I have just returned from a second visit with Siku, the polar bear cub born at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Denmark. My first visit was to share what we learned in preparing our polar bear youngsters for life in San Diego. Siku still was not yet walking then and was not quite 13 weeks old. On my recent trip, Siku was now 21 weeks and was walking, running, swimming, and being overall an adorable monster!

Since Siku’s mom did not produce milk, the decision was made to hand raise him, which meant having close contact with him (not a problem when his fastest speed was a quick crawl!). He is now rambunctious and, as polar bears need to do, he is jumping, grabbing, and mouthing everything and everyone in sight. Mom polar bears are well equipped to handle this; human caregivers, not so much!

This trip was to help the team in Denmark move ahead with management that increases Siku’s independence and encourages his natural instincts as a polar bear. He did extremely well with every challenge of independence. You can imagine how difficult it is, though, for the team who has been caring for him all these months to see that maybe he didn’t need them as much anymore, or at least not in the same ways. I must say how proud I was to assure them and show them the close ties we have with our three polar bears and how much that strengthens when you’re not worried about when the next play jump comes from a now 60-pound and often wet white ball of teeth and claws! All meant in fun, but still dangerous for fragile humans!

Siku has lots of toys to encourage his natural learning behavior and is getting plenty of opportunities to learn with his training sessions. At 21 weeks, he has already learned several important behaviors from his keepers such as “sit,” “stand,” “down,” “shift,” “come,” and how to sit on a scale.

In choosing his name, thought was given to the chance to represent wild polar bears and the people who share the Arctic. Siku is from the Inuit language for sea ice. Siku will remind everyone that we are losing our arctic ice due to warming trends in our climate.  Science has proven this warming is caused by the increase of carbon emissions in our atmosphere. Siku and our three polar bears, Chinook, Kalluk, and Tatqiq, are ambassadors who remind all of us of their wild cousins and that we must make changes to help save their arctic home.

As you enjoy watching and hearing about these great ice bears, please keep in mind everything you can do to help. Then do it!

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: Back to 3.

UPDATE: Two days after this was written, Kalluk and Chinook began breeding. November 2 is the first possible day of birth if Chinook is pregnant! The waiting begins. . .

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Polar Bears: Back to 3

Chinook enjoys some ice time in July.

Over the past week, Chinook has been more active and has been spending lots of time outside in our polar bear management yard instead of her bedrooms and den. On this past Sunday, we removed the den, and she seemed not to care. So this morning we reintroduced our fabulous threesome! After a brief greeting, all three settled on exhibit: Chinook in the mulch by the road, Kalluk on the point, and Tatqiq at the edge of the pool. All seem to be pleased with each other’s company. Chinook did go up to the doors after 30 minutes to see if we were around, but after sniffing and listening she went back out to her mulch bed.

The immediate future will be about continuing the ultrasound exams for a few weeks just to see any changes. Then as we approach the end of winter, we expect to see Kalluk’s behavior change, letting us know breeding season will be upon us shortly, and then. . .we all know the routine. So uncross you fingers and rest your hopes, at least until next fall!

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: No Easy Answers.

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Polar Bears: No Easy Answers

Ah, Chinook!

November 16 has come and gone and still no news with Chinook. The estimated gestation for polar bears is 195 to 265 days; since Kalluk and Chinook bred in mid-February, we certainly expected to know by now if Chinook is or isn’t pregnant.  All we know for certain is that she has not had any cubs . . .yet.

Her hormone analysis shows similar profiles to other polar bears that have given birth in late November or December. It is also a profile that has not produced cubs. Every year we get a bit better information, but it is still not the perfect test. Chinook’s ultrasound exams also showed promise of her uterus developing as we’d not seen in past years. We also had two exams scheduled where Chinook let us know she did not want to join in. However, this week she enthusiastically participated. We easily could see her uterus but no cubs were to be seen.

So for now we have no easy answer to the question “Is she or isn’t she?” We will continue to care for her as she needs until the time that she shows us she is ready to be out with Kalluk and Tatqiq, and then we’ll have our terrific trio together again or until our beautiful girl has those precious white fur bundles, and we can all know our finger crossing and wishes worked!

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bear Ultrasound.

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Polar Bear Ultrasound

Will these two become parents this year?

Pieces of the Puzzle

Yes, we have begun the ultrasound exams with Chinook! Yes, she is cooperative, and we are very hopeful that this will be the year that once again we will have polar bear cubs at the San Diego Zoo. But how difficult is it to ultrasound a polar bear who is wide awake? The pieces of the puzzle are coming together.

The first puzzle piece, training, was relatively easy. Due to the great trusting relationship between Chinook and her keepers, and the history of learning together, teaching Chinook to roll over and hold went quickly. The next part was to get her to accept the ultrasound gel and actual probe on her belly. Chinook does very well with it all. And please keep in mind she is the only polar bear in the world who is trained for the ultrasound procedure.

We tend to take for granted the use of ultrasound to diagnose pregnancy. It is almost commonplace now. It wasn’t that long ago when ultrasound exams on our giant panda Bai Yun were also history in the making! Again one of the challenges is to find a very small fetus in a very big bear and ensure the safety of Chinook, the veterinarian, and, of course, the ultrasound probe! We are lucky to have many talented folks at the Zoo who have helped in designing and building various pieces of the puzzle. We now have a specially molded probe holder and removable bars on our training crate that allow for better movement of the ultrasound probe.

Every ultrasound image is recorded for review by our veterinary staff. We are confident that “when” (positive thinking) polar bear cubs begin to develop, we will be able to see them well and document another historical event: first-ever in utero polar bears!

Until then, we continue to collect urine and fecal samples to chart Chinook’s hormonal changes and monitor her behavior for dramatic and subtle changes that will alert us to her needs for a successful pregnancy and rearing of polar bear cubs. The cameras, microphones, and recorders are all ready, as long as she chooses those areas to den!

Now that we have all the pieces to the puzzle for our Chinook, it is important to remember that there are many pieces of polar bear reproduction that are missing. Much of our research with polar bear sensory ecology (see post Polar Bears: Getting Ready) will help shed light on pieces of the puzzle that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do in the Arctic. To be able to document a polar bear pregnancy may give us more information on how to better protect polar bear maternity areas at critical times as more environmental impact jeopardizes the survival of our wild polar bears. How wonderful to be part of keeping polar bears in our future and not just a part of our history.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: Dare to Hope.

Update October 28, 2011: Both ultrasound and fecal hormone analysis look possible, but nothing is confirmed yet. Keep everything crossed!

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Polar Bears: Dare to Hope

Chinook gives Kalluk's scruff a playful tug.

We’ve all experienced wanting something so bad that it hurts. People will tell you all kinds of things to make the waiting a bit less painful. You begin to fill your head with all the knowledge you can to know if it will really happen or not. And then comes the superstitions: don’t step on a crack, don’t talk about it, fingers and toes crossed. But no matter what, it just takes time to get the really special things that you want! What am I talking about? Wondering if polar bear Chinook is going to have cubs, of course! Is there anything else on our minds? Dare we hope?

As you know, Chinook and Kalluk marked Valentine’s Day 2011 by marking the start of the polar bear breeding season. If you were to ask Kalluk, he would tell you it was a successful season. The good news is that Chinook did not go back into season. This is very good, as we believe that when a female polar bear ovulates and there is fertilization, in most instances she will not cycle again that year. This is a good knowledge point.  Chinook, as many of you have observed, has also been putting on weight. This would not be due to carrying cubs, as they are barely over a pound at birth, but would make sense that her metabolism would compensate to hold as much as possible to nurse and provide for cubs—another good point of knowledge.

Polar bears experience delayed implantation, so we would expect to see Chinook changing behaviorally once the fertilized egg implants, around 60 days before birth. Yes, she is beginning to seclude herself away from Kalluk and Tatqiq. If gestation is 195 to 265 days for a polar bears, then from the 10 days of breeding, Chinook would be due between August 28 and November 16. Panic—it’s already September! Breathe, breathe. With such a long gestation, she could be implanting right now with a due date of early November.  Most polar bear births in North American zoos have occurred in the first week of November, the earliest was on October 13. Good things to know!

We have been collecting fecal samples for hormone analysis with the research branch of the Cincinnati Zoo and urine samples for hormone analysis with the Memphis Zoo. So far, nothing conclusive from the urine analyses, but the fecal analyses look positive for pregnancy. . .or pseudopregnancy. BUT—and yes, a big but—Chinook’s hormone profile is consistent with profiles of other polar bears that have given birth! Dare we hope?

So with knowledge in place, we’re avoiding walking under ladders, stepping on cracks, saying anything to jinx it, and above all, fingers and toes crossed. You better believe we are daring to hope that this time will be for sure!

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Little Polar Bear: Lessons.

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Little Polar Bear: Lessons

Qannik demonstrates the paw to hand behavior. What a smart cub! Photo by Andrew Fore.

JoAnne was at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky to help staff with their newest arrival, an orphaned polar bear cub named Qannik. Read her previous post, Little Polar Bear Orphan.

For polar bear cubs, life is all about learning to survive in the Arctic from the moment they are born until Momma kicks them out. Momma bear has all the right stuff for teaching: intelligence, nourishment, and communication. For Qannik, communication with her keepers would be the first lesson. Luckily, Qannik is very intelligent, and, dare I say, so are keepers! Training using positive reinforcement is how we communicate with our bears.

The sloping false bottom made for Qannik's pool.

We taught Qannik to slurp her formula out of a large syringe that is easy to use from outside the mesh. Qannik is a large girl now and will soon be reaching over 400 pounds (180 kilograms), so it’s important we teach her just as we would when she is an adult polar bear. This beginning relationship is so important: we look for nice, relaxed eye-to-eye moments. Next are a few simple behaviors like shifting rooms, sitting, or presenting a paw when asked to do so.

While the Louisville Zoo keepers were flying to Alaska to pick up Qannik, one of my tasks was to build a false bottom in her new pool to help her learn how to swim. In the Arctic, Momma bear offers her back for the young cubs to hold on to until they learn to swim well. With the help of Steve Goodwin, Louisville Zoo’s all-round-can-do-it-all guy (he makes incredible pottery, too!), we built, netted, tied, and lashed a false bottom into the pool. The design allowed for sloped access into the deep end, strength enough to hold a pouncing 60-pound (27 kilograms) bear, and be easy to take apart once Qannik could swim and get out of the pool on her own.

Qannik keeps everyone in suspense as she contemplates a swim.

The day after Qannik arrived, we watched her make her first plunge into the pool.  Miss Qannik knows how to hold her audience! She spent the majority of the day on the first steps holding on by her toes, stretching ever so far that we all knew she had to go in! She would turn and look at us as if to say “Gotcha!” Finally she rewarded our patience by a not-so-graceful dive into the pool after a white bucket toy.

After the first excitement we held our breaths: would she be able to get out of the pool? Well, of course—she’s a polar bear! At that moment we decided we could take the false bottom out of the pool, as it had done its job! The slope helped her with gradual ease into the pool, it was strong enough to hold her, and was easy to take apart. Did you know little polar bears are also helpful? Qannik hopped right back into the pool and began to dismantle the false bottom to the floor. Louisville Zoo keepers report she now throws all her toys into the pool and is officially a swimming maniac.

Qannik helps dismantle the pool's false bottom, as it's no longer needed.

When the time came to say goodbye to little Qannik, it was not without a lump in my throat. In just a week she had grabbed my heart for all she has been through in her short life. What a spirit—so tenacious, so tough, so intelligent, so irresistible, a connection to the wild. All polar bears are like Qannik. It’s hard to think that there will be more Qanniks to rescue and some that we won’t find.

My time with Qannik was also about the wonderful folks who all came together to rescue and care for this little bear and the great team that will be there when the next bear needs help. We can make the changes as individuals joining together into communities to collaborate on conservation to save our arctic ice and the beautiful spirited creatures that live there.

Be sure to share some time with the San Diego Zoo’s fabulous trio on Wednesday, July 13.  We hear we are in for a summertime snow fall!

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

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Little Polar Bear Orphan

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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Polar Bears: What Happened?

Chinook pauses between doing her morning laps.

On February14, 2011, and for 10 days after, Chinook and Kalluk were inseparable. They slept together, ate together, swam together, and yes, bred. We can confirm that at this point we will be getting ready for the possibility of polar bear cubs this fall. However, this year breeding came early, and it’s possible we may see Chinook cycle again. It is interesting, as several other zoos with breeding polar bears have experienced this early breeding as well.

The gestation period for polar bears is 195 to 265 days, so before you get out the calendars and calculators, that gives us a due time of August 28 to November 16! To try to get as much information as possible along the way, we are collecting fecal samples and urine samples for hormone assay, and we will again do ultrasound exams with Chinook as we approach implantation and birth time. As you know, she does seem to greatly enjoy her belly-rubbing ultrasound sessions!

Kalluk is still showing a heightened level of testosterone with his behavior and inconsistent appetite. For males in the wild, this lack of eating is proving to be of concern as we lose more ice. In the wild, male polar bears begin searching for receptive females early in the spring. Once they breed with a female, she goes off to hunt and store as much fat as possible while he goes off in search of another receptive female. As the ice disappears earlier in summer, the males are losing precious time to hunt.

Kalluk doesn’t have this worry, as finding food is never an issue. Over the past weeks it has been difficult to get him to acknowledge food, but yesterday he ate 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of meat in one sitting. Kalluk is also beginning to actually sleep; during breeding season, he is so intent on where Chinook is that he rarely does anything more than a quick nap. Both eating and sleeping are good signs that we may be heading back to normal!

Chinook also has some resting to do. Kalluk is twice her size and very attentive to her every move. She is now spending a great deal of time snoozing in our mulch piles or taking long, luxurious swims in the pool. Two days ago Chinook and Kalluk had a great romping play-and- dive session, another sign that “normal” may be right around the corner.

Tatqiq seems to have a great understanding of what breeding season means to her. She is patiently waiting until her friends lose their romantic interests and regain their playful spirits and once again join her in a good romp around the exhibit. Until then, she is greatly enjoying having all the carrots to herself and is busy hunting gophers in Polar Bear Park.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bear Dance, where she has responded to questions sent there.