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About Author: Matthew Price

Posts by Matthew Price

20

Punk Rock Polar Bears?

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Polar bears are champion swimmers!

One of the most frequently asked questions during the summer months at Polar Bear Plunge is “Why are the bears green?” The answer may surprise you!

The outer guard hairs on a polar bear’s coat are clear and hollow (like a straw), which means they often take on the color of whatever they happened to roll in. Wild bears mostly have only snow and ice to lie on, so they usually maintain the bright white color that you imagine when you picture a polar bear. Here at the Zoo, we like to provide Kalluk, Tatqiq, and Chinook with as many different substrates in their habitat as we can so that they have options when they choose to rest or roll around. This gives them an opportunity to exhibit species-specific behavior. Throughout their habitat they have access to grass, sand, mulch, dirt, pine needles, hay, and a couple of hammocks made out of used fire hose. You may have seen Chinook masquerading as a brown bear after a prolonged roll in the mulch or dirt.

That brings me back to the original question of “Why are the polar bears green?” Remember those hollow hairs? That tiny space in each hair is a great place for algae to live. The bears’ main exhibit pool is fresh water and during the summer, when the weather is warmer than usual, algae begin to grow on the pool floor. When our bears swim and brush up along the bottom or sides of the pool, they pick up some of the algae, which continue to grow inside the individual hairs! It is not a concern for the bears as we have an elaborate filtration system and excellent water quality team. It is unlikely that they even notice it, but it does give them a bit of a punk rock look. In the winter, around Christmas time, they look downright festive!

The discoloration will last until the bears molt in the springtime. For about two weeks in March to April, our bears glisten with a brilliant white color. Once they start rolling around in all that substrate we provide, they begin to take on the color of their environment and the cycle begins again.

Matthew Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous blog, Springtime for Polar Bears.

37

Springtime for Polar Bears

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Logs of all sizes are one of the enrichment items keepers provide for our polar bears.

Another breeding season has come and gone for our polar bears. Chinook and Kalluk bred this year in February, so the waiting game begins once again.

Sometime in late September or early October Chinook will be brought inside and given access to her private air-conditioned den where she will hopefully rear her first cubs. She has already started to show signs that she wants some “alone time,” so on most days you will see her on exhibit in the morning and in the “polar bear penthouse” in the afternoon where she has her own private pool! If you take a look behind the exhibit on the far left you may be able to get a glimpse of her through the pine trees.

Kalluk is just now starting to come out of his annual post-breeding season malaise and is once again playing with his sister Tatqiq. They have been wrestling both on land and in the pool!

The keepers are hard at work providing as much novel enrichment as possible for the bears. If you have been watching our Polar Bear Cam recently, you may have seen interesting things like a log-and-palm-frond shelter, foraging piles, and burlap sack “seals”. The bears love it when they tear into a “seal” and find things like favorite toys, bones, and melons. In the near future we hope to bring in a crane to move around the large logs and root balls in the exhibit as well as bring in new furniture. It is the goal of the Polar Team to provide a dynamic and ever-changing space for our bears. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a snow day sometime in the next couple of months!

We invite you to come down to see what the bears are up to!

Matthew Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

3

Masked Animal Refuses To Be Taken for “Granite”

Granite washes her food.

Granite is right at home in the Zoo’s Northern Frontier.

In the back recesses of the Northern Frontier at the San Diego Zoo, near the Arctic foxes and below the reindeer, lives an animal that many Zoo guests might take for granted, because they can occasionally see one in their backyard. While guests are oohing and ahhing over the nearby polar bears, a female raccoon named Granite is foraging, lounging, or playing in her pool. Granite has lived in the exhibit across from the Polar Bear Plunge helicopter for nearly four years. She moved to her current location from the Zoo’s Discovery Outpost in June 2009.

Granite is six years old and has quite the personality when she is willing to show it! She can be shy at times, and if you don’t see her out, then she is likely sleeping in her house or her hammock. This is normal behavior for a raccoon, because they are mostly nocturnal by nature so are more active at night. They will come out during the day, however, usually to look for food. A few of Granite’s preferred foods are yams, bananas, and jicama.

Some of Granite’s favorite activities include foraging for treats, playing “watch the reindeer,” and hunting crayfish. When Boris, the male reindeer, was born, Granite was especially curious during his bottle-feeding sessions. We keepers provide as much enrichment possible for Granite when we aren’t managing the polar bears or the Arctic foxes.

Raccoons are naturally curious and extremely intelligent. Because we want to engage Granite both intellectually and physically, she rarely receives a “free” meal. Granite is quite adept at opening jars, tearing through boxes, climbing to the highest points of her exhibit, and figuring out how to get her food out of puzzle feeders. We provide all of these things to stimulate her, both mentally and physically and are constantly looking for new ways to enrich her life and keep her busy.

The next time you are visiting our polar bears, stop by the exhibit across from the Arctic foxes and see what our beautiful raccoon Granite is up to!

Matthew Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.