Polar bear cub
The Toledo Zoo is excited to announce the birth of a polar bear cub on December 3, 2015. Sixteen-year-old mother, Crystal, is caring for the yet to be named cub off-exhibit. The Zoo’s animal care staff is carefully observing the cub’s progress through a monitor in the den; as in the wild, the two bears will stay secluded until the cub grows substantially. Due to the seclusion, the sex of the cub nor an exhibit debut date have been determined.
“This is the fifth time polar bear cubs have been born at the Toledo Zoo, for a total of seven cubs since 2006,” said Dr. Randi Meyerson, assistant director of animal programs. “We are very excited about the successful birth and rearing of this cub. Crystal has always demonstrated great maternal care. The cub still has a lot of important milestones [to achieve] before going on exhibit, but we are cautiously optimistic that both mom and cub will continue to thrive.”
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as a vulnerable species and as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act due to loss of Arctic sea ice from climate change.
Polar bears are the largest carnivorous land mammal on earth and have no natural predators, except humans. They are native to Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland. Adult polar bears are between seven and eight feet long and can weigh between 900 and 1,600 pounds. Polar bears are uniquely designed to thrive in the frigid climate of the Arctic. They have black skin to absorb heat from sun lights and two layers of translucent fur, even covering the undersides of their feet, to help insulate against the cold. Under their skin is a fat layer that serves as more insulation and aid buoyancy while swimming. Additionally, polar bears have small ears and a very short tail to prevent heat loss. In the wild, their diet consists mainly of ringed seals, but will also prey upon walrus and even opportunistically feast on whale carcasses.
Wild polar bears mate from March to May. Pregnant females then dig a birthing den in the snow in late fall and give birth to one to three cubs during the winter months. At birth, polar bear cubs are about 12 inches long, weigh only about one pound and are blind and toothless with short, soft fur. The cubs are completely dependent on their mother but will grow rapidly by drinking the mother’s milk that is 31 percent fat. The mother and cub[s] will not emerge from the den until the cub[s] reach 20 – 30 pounds and can safely travel together to the sea ice for feeding.
In recent years, some of the 19 known sub-populations of polar bears have seen decreasing numbers due to warming Arctic temperatures which causes a reduction in sea ice. Sea ice is the main location for polar bears to hunt seals, breed and construct dens. “We hope that this cub will inspire visitors to care about polar bears and also to learn what we as humans can do to reduce our carbon foot print and help polar bears in the wild,” said Dr. Meyerson.
Jeff Sailer, the Zoo’s executive director, said, “The Zoo is very happy to be able to share another polar bear cub with our visitors. This cub is not only important for maintaining a healthy and growing population but also for bringing the plight of the wild polar bear population to the forefront. We are proud to welcome this conservation ambassador to the world and to the Toledo Zoo.”