6/22/2011 6:23:36 PM

Orphaned Polar Bear Cub Going to Louisville


It's official: The hungry and frightened polar bear cub rescued in April on Alaska's North Slope has found a new home at the Louisville Zoo. Named Qannik, which means snowflake in the I̱upiat language, the cub is scheduled to arrive in late June from her current home at the Alaska Zoo. She will remain off public exhibit for a period of time to allow her to adjust to her new surroundings.

The cub's successful rescue and placement is the product of teamwork coordinated by Polar Bears International, with partners involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Louisville and Alaska zoos, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and UPS.

AZA and USFWS officials chose the Louisville Zoo because of its ability to meet the young cub's physical and psychological needs, as well as its strong messaging on climate change.

"The Louisville Zoo's new Glacier Run bear habitat is an excellent facility with a lot of space, flexibility, animal training, and enrichment options," said Dr. Randi Meyerson, coordinator of the AZA's Polar Bear Species Survival Plan and a PBI Advisory Council member. "In addition, several of the zoo's staff have over 10 years experience in working with polar bears."

Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, chief scientist with PBI, said the cub would have died if she had not been rescued. "Polar bear cubs stay with their mother for over two years as they learn how to survive in the Arctic. Cubs of this age can't make it on their own." Dr. Amstrup led polar bear research in Alaska for 30 years before joining PBI's staff.

The scientist said that an increased numbers of cubs have been dying during their early months of life in recent years. Scientists have shown that these higher death rates are linked to reductions in sea ice caused by global warming. More open water and fragmented sea ice makes it increasingly difficult for tiny cubs to keep up with mother bears that urgently need to catch seals in order to regain weight lost during their long winter fast.

"It's lucky for Qannik that she was discovered and brought to Louisville where she can flourish and also help inspire people to take action to help her wild cousins," Amstrup concluded.

Robert Buchanan, president and CEO of PBI, said that the primary concern of everyone involved with this little bear has been to do what's best for her. "The Louisville Zoo has an extraordinary exhibit and commitment to polar bears," he said. "It will provide Qannik with a wonderful home."

Photos by John Gomes, Alaska Zoo.

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