Kansas City polar bears 'mate' for each other - KPTV - FOX 12


Kansas City polar bears 'mate' for each other

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There's the birds and the bees, and now the polar bears.

After hints earlier this week that Nikita and Berlin were getting fresh with each other, there was no doubt Wednesday morning that love was in the air at the Kansas City Zoo.

And zoo leaders in both Kansas City and Minnesota, where Berlin spent much of her life, couldn't be more thrilled by what they're seeing on the KCTV5 polar bear cam.

"We've got a couple of friendly bears. That's why she was brought into the Kansas City Zoo," Randy Wisthoff, Kansas City Zoo director, said with a laugh. "We're just happy they are getting along right now."

The two have been inseparable over the past weeks with a spring thaw and Berlin coming into heat. Zoo keepers had been noticing the change in behavior in the 23-year-old Berlin in recent days.

"This looks pretty darn good," said Peter Pruett, director of zoo operations at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, MN, where Berlin has lived most of her life. 

It won't be known for months whether the mating was successful.

"We just stand back and let nature take its course and see what happens," Wisthoff said. 

If the two successfully mated, Berlin would show signs in late October or early November that she's preparing to hunker down before giving birth. Pruett said Berlin wouldn't gain much weight so weighing her wouldn't confirm a pregnancy like it would for other animals in confirming a pregnancy.

An isolated dark den would be made available for her and cameras installed so that zoo keepers could observe any birth. Nikita, 6, would be kept away from Berlin during this time, Pruett said.

Any cubs likely wouldn't be born until December and could come as late as January.

"It's going to be a really special bear," Pruett said if Berlin is able to give birth to her first cub. "We could potentially have something awesome. Wouldn't a Christmas baby be nice?"

KCTV5 is in the process of upgrading the Nikita cam so that starting next week the livestream can be seen on all Apple devices and most tablets and smartphones.

Last summer, Berlin's zoo saw a devastating flood that allowed Berlin to escape her home. She was tranquilized and shipped immediately to the St. Paul zoo where they had two twin polar bears, Neil and Buzz. The twins had been sterilized.

Nikita was a 6-year-old male at the Kansas City zoo in need for a date. Officials at the three zoos and a national zoo organization worked out the details to send Berlin south. A health scare delayed Berlin's departure, which finally came in December.

After passing quarantine and giving Berlin some alone time to get use to her new surroundings, the two polar bears in early February were put together into the Polar Bear Passage at the Kansas City Zoo. The goal was to get the two bears familiar with each other before breeding season, which typically starts in April.

"As we expected, she kind of went and ruled the roost and chased him around it," Wisthoff said. "It used to be his house and it looked like Mama bear is ruling the house. Over the past few weeks, things have changed a bit."

The February snowstorms seemed to help them turn a corner as they played together. But that Berlin was coming into season became more apparent recently when Berlin would jump into the waters to grab Nikita's attention as he was doing laps in the pool. Other signs included her pestering him while he slept in his sandy pit. Over the past week, they have actually slept close together for hours at a time. On Tuesday, the two bears slept face to face with Nikita rolling over at one point and seemingly cuddling Berlin.

After Wednesday morning, Nikita stayed close to Berlin's side and she was more passive than typical around Nikita.

If successful, this would be the first pregnancy for both polar bears.

"Don't hold your breath. Just keep cheering her on," Pruett said.

Losing their little bear who could has been tough for Minnesota residents, who have kept updated on the beloved bear through the Nikita cam. Pruett said it's special to see how far Berlin has come so quickly during the toughest of circumstances for a bear.

"It's so good to see her sitting there with him. You would never expect or them to be at this point. It's a huge sigh of relief," Pruett said. "It's a special moment."

The Nikita cam has given zoo officials across the country but especially in Duluth a chance to see breeding behavior live. Pruett said the mating period likely will last just a week.

Wisthoff said after that then Berlin may return to her previous disdain for Nikita. Pruett agreed.

He said it's all about biology and finding out whether a baby shower is needed later this year.

"We are hoping beyond hope that maybe in December we will have a reason to celebrate," Wisthoff said.

The news that the bears are getting "really friendly" was big in Minnesota, and made several television stations' evening broadcasts. The Duluth newspaper wrote this article.

Kansas City area resident Sandy Vetter has blogged about the burgeoning relationship. You can read about it by clicking here.

You can see YouTube videos from Vetter by clicking here.

The number of captive polar bears in Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institutions is 68, the Lake Superior zoo says. Of those, only 35 are capable of breeding. Berlin is one of 21 females within the optimal breeding age.

"Berlin and Nikita are placed together as part of a breeding recommendation made by the AZA's polar bear species survival plan (SSP). They are paired with the hope that they will produce offspring. Having a viable captive population is important because polar bears in the wild are a threatened species," the zoo said in a news release Wednesday.

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