I’ve just returned from my annual trip to Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, to work with Polar Bears International. This was my 10th year of doing so, and, as many of you know, I have seen dramatic changes in the environment and animals that live there in just this decade. This year has provided the shortest ice season in recorded time: the polar bears lost a full nine weeks of hunting time. The water and air temperatures for November and December continue to be above normal, delaying the formation of ice again this year. The polar bears have been hunting during low tide and have been fortunate to occasionally find harbor seals resting among the rocks. The bears must be vigilant that they return to the shore before the tide rushes in.
Archive for the 'Bear Awareness' Category
Giant pandas Su Lin and Zhen Zhen moved to Wolong, China on September 24, 2010. Gaylene accompanied them on their journey and is sharing the trip with us through blog installments. Be sure to read China Trip Diary: Part 2.
I have decided that flying with a giant panda is the way to go! Fifteen hours go by very quickly when you have a two incredible pandas to visit with and take care of. Zhen Zhen and Su Lin were troupers throughout the journey. The “What ifs” and worries of what might happen were subdued by the natural behaviors these two young pandas demonstrated in conditions far from routine. The dedicated daily care given to Su Lin and Zhen Zhen, combined with the wonderful travel training efforts provided by the keepers, set this journey up to be a success!
Giant pandas Su Lin and Zhen Zhen moved to Wolong, China on September 24, 2010. Gaylene accompanied them on their journey and is sharing the trip with us through blog installments. Be sure to read China Trip Diary: Part 1.
The day of departure arrived, and the keepers and I did our best to focus on the tasks we had to accomplish rather than the goodbyes we had to say. Su Lin and Zhen Zhen entered their crates and settled in. I buckled my seatbelt on the bench seat directly in front of the pandas in the cargo section of the truck, and we departed for the land portion of the journey.
I recently spent several days in the dry forest of Lambayeque in Peru working with our collaborator Robyn Appleton and her field crew from the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society and with Dr. Meg Sutherland-Smith, a veterinarian from the San Diego Zoo. Our goals were to reinforce and enhance the field crew’s training in bear immobilization and, with luck, to illustrate everything by immobilizing a female Andean (or spectacled) bear and placing a GPS collar on her. The field crew had recently discovered the den at which a female bear (Pepa) had given birth. This is the fourth den found at this field site, and only the fifth ever described of wild Andean bears (one den was recently discovered in the cloud forest of Ecuador).
On a lovely afternoon, the pandas were doing their usual activities: Yun Zi was playing around on the branches of his exhibit, while Bai Yun sat and munched on bamboo for a good amount of time. A few times I could see the little wheels turning in Yun Zi’s head, trying to decide what to investigate. I love to watch him while on the job because he never seems to bore me.
Friday’s reopening of our giant panda exhibits was a huge success! It was so nice to see Bai Yun, Yun Zi, and even Gao Gao exploring their new areas. Gao surprised us with his climbing skills: he really seemed to enjoy the new furniture!
Bai and Yun Zi were hysterical; we put out some loamex mulch in their cave, and they had so much fun rolling in the pile and getting very dirty! But that was not all: they entertained us by playing on the new climbing logs and exploring the new plants. I held my breath thinking little Yun Zi was going to go on a plant attack!
Bai Yun has long had the nickname of “Teflon bear,” because she always looks so white and clean. In their early days at the San Diego Zoo, our male Shi Shi would be dirty and covered with grit, while our then-young female appeared freshly bathed. It didn’t much matter if it was raining or if the yard was mostly dirt or if she had just finished a play bout. Grime just never seemed to stick to our girl. Bai Yun was always camera ready.
Well, so much for that.
It’s hard to believe summer is a distant memory, and fall is quickly passing. Can we already be into the middle of November? Six months ago we were all so sure our Chinook would be caring for cubs. We’ve not yet given up, but the wait and uncertainty is almost un”bear”able. We will just have to wait a bit longer to know if we will be welcoming any cubs to our family.
Here is what we do know: as of the last analysis of hormones, October 12, Chinook had not yet had any embryos implant, but her levels were still close to what we would expect of a potentially pregnant polar bear. So if she is pregnant, we would now not expect to see any cubs until late November or early December. We must still keep in mind that these tests are not a perfected science, and we still have many things to learn.
What if San Diego Zoo polar bear Chinook gives birth to a beautiful healthy cub? What if the cub is sick or hurt just after it is born? What if Chinook doesn’t know what to do with her tiny squawking bundle? What if she can’t produce enough milk? What if the confusion of first-time motherhood is too much for Chinook to handle? How could we help? What should we do? What would we do?
Why would we even entertain such horrible thoughts? What’s with all the doom and gloom?
Wild brown and black bears are facing a bleak time of limited food availability in the coldest months of the year. For this reason, late in fall they engage in hyperphagia, compulsively eating anything they can get their paws on. This builds layers of fat that will be essential to keeping them warm and healthy through the upcoming winter. (more…)